The difficult patient in gastroenterology: chronic pelvic pain, adhesions, and sub occlusive episodes

Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2007;21(3):445-63. doi: 10.1016/j.bpg.2007.01.005.


Chronic pelvic pain (CPP) with or without adhesions and symptoms of intestinal occlusion is a complex but relatively common complaint. The etiology and pathophysiology of CPP and adhesions are unclear, as is their possible relation. However, it is evident that continuous abdominal pain leads to evident suffering and disability. Unfortunately, there is little proof or evidence of success for many of the currently used diagnostic and therapeutic interventions. Laparoscopy is neither the ultimate evaluation nor the panacea for CPP or intra abdominal adhesions. An integral approach to CPP has shown beneficial results. In this multidisciplinary approach dealing with the pain is far more important than finding an organic cause and cure for the pain. Equal and simultaneous attention is paid to psychosocial, sexual and somatic aspects. The treatment of adhesions depends on the extent of symptoms and complaints. Because of the questionable relation between adhesions and pain, and the probability of reformation and de novo adhesion formation after surgery, adhesiolysis should be avoided. Even for patients with signs and symptoms of small bowel obstruction a conservative treatment is often justified. These patients require careful evaluation and management. Frequent reassessment is important to rule out impending strangulation, complete obstruction or perforation. Water soluble contrast can be useful to justify prolongation of conservative treatment and by that postpone unnecessary surgery. Most adhesive small bowel obstructions resolve following conservative treatment. The unsolved questions about etiology, diagnosis, treatment and prevention, and the great individual and community burden of CPP and adhesions clearly show that further research is needed.

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Pelvic Pain* / diagnosis
  • Pelvic Pain* / epidemiology
  • Pelvic Pain* / etiology
  • Pelvic Pain* / physiopathology
  • Pelvic Pain* / therapy
  • Prognosis
  • Tissue Adhesions*