Adhesions: preventive strategies

Eur J Surg Suppl. 1997;(577):32-9.


Adhesions, which occur after 67% to 93% of abdominal operations, represent a major clinical problem, resulting in intestinal obstruction, infertility, and pain and incurring considerable economic costs. The magnitude and seriousness of the problem of adhesions have been underappreciated. Moreover, efforts to prevent or reduce adhesions largely have been unsuccessful, hindered by their empirical basis, the lack of good predictive animal models, and the biochemical complexities of adhesiogenesis. The two major strategies for adhesion prevention or reduction are adjusting surgical technique and applying adjuvants. Modifications in technique that all surgeons should implement include minimizing the invasiveness of surgery, minimizing surgical trauma, such as ischemia from peritoneal suturing, and avoiding the introduction of foreign material, e.g., starch glove powder, into the body. Given the adhesiogenic nature of peritoneal repair, however, improvements in surgical technique alone will help decrease but not prevent adhesion formation. Adjuvant therapy is necessary. Adjuvants fall into two main categories, drugs and barriers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have shown questionable clinical efficacy, possibly because of difficulties in drug delivery. Corticosteroids, alone or with antihistamines, also have had equivocal clinical results and may be immunosuppressive and delay wound healing. Experimentally, fibrinolytics such as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), administered systemically or intraperitoneally (i.p.), have demonstrated conflicting results and hemorrhagic complications. However, recently, tPA, administered topically in a carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) gel, has been effective in reducing and preventing adhesions in rabbits. Phosphatidylcholine, given i.p. or orally, also has shown promise in animal studies. Barriers, by separating traumatized surfaces for the critical first five to seven days of peritoneal re-epithelialization, are useful adjuvants, and include macromolecular solutions and mechanical devices. Dextran, a macromolecular solution, has been studied widely, but has not demonstrated consistent clinical efficacy and has been largely abandoned as an anti-adhesion barrier. A newly developed hyaluronic acid-phosphate-buffered saline solution applied intraoperatively to protect peritoneal surfaces from indirect surgical trauma effectively and safely reduced adhesions in a large multicenter study of women undergoing gynecological laparotomy. Three recently developed mechanical barriers also have demonstrated clinical progress in adhesion prevention. A bioresorbable membrane consisting of hyaluronic acid and CMC has gained regulatory approval for clinical use in both general and gynecological surgery following demonstration of efficacy and safety in reducing adhesions. A barrier made of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene and another developed from oxidized regenerated cellulose are currently available for gynecological surgery. With continued research, new and improved approaches hopefully will become available to prevent adhesion formation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Tissue Adhesions / prevention & control*


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal