Adhesions often do not cause any problems. But sometimes they can cause pain. This may be more likely if you have also had radiotherapy to the abdomen.
Rarely, adhesions can make part of the bowel twist or kink, pulling it out of place so that it becomes blocked. This can cause symptoms such as:
- severe pain or cramping in your tummy (abdominal pain)
- sickness (vomiting)
- loud gurgling sounds from the bowel
- tummy swelling
- not being able to pass wind
If your symptoms are caused by a blocked bowel, you may need urgent treatment.
Often the bowel is only partly blocked and gets better (unkinks) after being rested for a time. This may mean:
- a short stay in hospital
- not eating for a day or so and having fluids through a drip into a vein
- having a liquid or low-residue diet.
A low-residue diet contains very low amounts of fibre. This means it is more easily broken down into smaller particles by the digestive system. Your nurse or doctor will explain this diet in more detail if you need to follow it for a short time.
If the bowel is completely blocked, you may need an urgent operation to relieve it.
Most people do not need treatment for adhesions as they usually cause no problems. Surgery is the only way to break adhesions that cause pain or bowel blockage. However, surgery may cause more adhesions, so it is avoided where possible.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our adhesions information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
BMJ Best Practice. Small bowel obstruction. [Internet], 2020. Available from bestpractice.bmj.com [accessed January 2021].
ten Broek RPG, Krielen P, Di Saverio S et al. Bologna guidelines for diagnosis and management of adhesive small bowel obstruction (ASBO): 2017 update of the evidence-based guidelines from the world society of emergency surgery ASBO working group. World J Emerg Surg, 2018, 13, 24.
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
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