When you're headed for hysterectomy or other gynecologic surgery, you are probably worried about many things. Will you have any bad reactions to the anesthesia? Will the surgeon find any major problems? Will you be in much pain? Will recovery be fast? One thing you probably don't think about, however, is whether the surgery will cause pelvic or abdominal adhesions—a complication that could cause health problems for you in the future.
Yet adhesions, which occur when bands of scar tissue in the abdominal cavity get "stuck" to pelvic or abdominal organs, are one of the most common complications of pelvic and abdominal surgeries. The type of surgery doesn't matter; although adhesions are slightly less likely to occur with laparoscopic surgery (in which a surgeon makes very small incisions in the abdomen instead of one large incision) they still occur at a fairly high rate.
Adhesions form as a result of injury or trauma to the peritoneum, the clear membrane that covers the inside of the abdomen and all abdominal and pelvic organs, except the ovaries. When healthy, this membrane is slippery. Once injured, however, the immune system kicks in to repair things, leading to inflammation and the production of sticky scar tissue called a fibrin matrix.
Normally these bands of scar tissue dissolve through a biochemical process called fibrinolysis, just like a cut on your finger and any resulting scab eventually heal. But surgery reduces levels of blood chemicals needed for fibrinolysis, meaning these fibrous brands may not dissolve; instead, they develop into adhesions. They may form within a couple of weeks after surgery or not for months or even a year or more.
Although all gynecologic and abdominal surgeries can cause adhesions, cesarean sections, particularly repeat cesarean sections, carry a very high risk. One study found that women having their third or more cesarean section were almost twice as likely to experience dense adhesions as those undergoing their second (46.1 percent vs. 25.6 percent). Both groups, however, experienced a significant rate of adhesions.