After any type of surgery in the abdomen, bands of tissue (called adhesions) may form between abdominal tissues and organs. Normally, tissues and organs are slippery and move easily as the body moves. But, if adhesions form they can make tissues and organs stick together.

Most adhesions don’t cause problems. But sometimes they can cause pain in the abdomen. Rarely, they can cause a part of the bowel to twist or kink, pulling it out of place so that it becomes blocked. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • severe abdominal pain or cramping
  • sickness (vomiting)
  • bloating
  • loud gurgling sounds from the bowel
  • tummy (abdominal) swelling
  • inability to pass wind
  • constipation.

If you have severe pain you should contact a doctor straight away, as this could be a sign of a blocked bowel. You may need tests such as x-rays or scans to check.

Often the bowel is only partly blocked and gets better (unkinks) after being rested for a time. This may mean not eating for a day or so and having fluids through a drip into a vein, or it may involve taking a liquid or low-residue diet.

A low-residue diet is high in protein, low in fibre, and more easily broken down into smaller particles by the digestive system. If the bowel is completely blocked, you may need an urgent operation to relieve it.

Most people don’t need treatment for abdominal adhesions as they usually don’t cause problems. Surgery is the only way to break adhesions that cause pain or bowel blockage. However, surgery may cause more adhesions to form, so it’s avoided where possible.