Bowel adhesions - 
lifestyle advice


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Surgery to the abdomen has a tendency to cause fibrous tissue to form between the loops of bowel. Normally these loops slide smoothly over each other, expanding and contracting easily as motion passes through them. Fortunately, in most cases, this fibrous tissue (or scarring) is not noticeable but in some it impairs the normal fluidity of the bowel causing kinks and partial blockages. These physical barriers to the regular flow of motion result in:

  • intermittent colicky indigestion

  • bloating 

  • often a general feeling of malaise and ill health

If severe these episodes can lead to partial obstruction of the bowel requiring hospitalisation sometimes on repeated occasions. This in itself is associated with considerable disruption to patients daily lives especially, as is usually the case, when an episode occurs just before a holiday or family event. In the worse scenario bowels may obstruct altogether and require further surgery to cut the adhesions (fibrous bands). This of course is a “double edge sword” as although it relieves the immediate problem it adds to the underlying cause of adhesions in the long term. Two important lifestyle factors can help stop adhesions:-

  • Physical activity - exercise literally gigs your bowels around like worms in a bucket. Although it may cause some discomfort initially, it breaks down these adhesions between the loops of bowel preventing further problems. As you can imagine exercises which gig or move the body around are particularly helpful such as walking, running, dancing, cycling but any activity which is performed regularly, and therefore enjoyable to you, is helpful.  

  • Stopping smoking - smoking can contribute to the risk of delayed healing and tends to thicken to tissues adding to the risk of adhesion.

  • Diet -  see lifestyle and constipation for general advice on diet to keep te bowels moving. If adhesions are severe a low residue diet many be recommended as a temporary measure but this is best supervised by a hospital dietician

Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.

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