The Diet for Bowel Adhesions

Grain products should ideally have less than 1 g of fiber per serving on a low-residue diet.

Your bowels and other abdominal organs have slick, membranous surfaces that prevent them from sticking together when they make contact under normal circumstances. Adhesions may occur when tissues make contact and band together, most often after surgery. Over time, these tissue bands can grow thicker and stronger. Although your diet cannot prevent adhesions, your doctor may recommend certain dietary modifications if abdominal adhesions cause a partial intestinal obstruction. A bowel obstruction is an emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

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Surgeries involving your lower abdominal area or pelvis are among the most common causes of abdominal adhesions. During surgery, your internal organs have contact with gauze, surgical instruments, gloves and other materials. Moist visceral tissues may become dry during an operation. Surgical incisions and the handling of your intestines and other abdominal organs may contribute to adhesions. Non-surgical causes of adhesions include abdominal infections, radiation treatment for cancer or appendicitis.


Symptoms and Diagnosis

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, or NDDIC, almost everyone who has abdominal or pelvic surgery experiences abdominal adhesions to some degree. After an operation, you may never know that you have adhesions unless you develop abdominal pain, the most common symptom. Bloating, vomiting, abdominal swelling, constipation and loud bowel sounds may be signs of an obstruction. Although diagnostic imaging techniques, such as ultrasound or x-rays, do not show the presence of abdominal adhesions, an abdominal x-ray, CT scan or barium study may indicate whether you have a bowel blockage.


Treatment and Diet

A bowel obstruction requires hospitalization for treatment and monitoring. Whether or not you need surgery or to reverse the blockage, you will require careful observation until the blockage is corrected, notes. If you have a partial bowel obstruction, your doctor may recommend a liquid or low-residue diet. Pulp-free liquids and soft, low-fiber foods that leave little or no residual material in your digestive tract may pass more easily through your intestinal tract if your bowel is partially blocked. In some cases, a low-residue diet may relieve a partial obstruction, according to the NDDIC. However, you will need to be observed closely to make sure that dietary changes are effective. Consult your doctor immediately if you have symptoms of intestinal obstruction.


Dietary Guidelines

A low-residue diet restricts foods that leave plant fiber and other undigested material in your digestive tract. Although this diet doesn't meet your long-term nutritional requirements, it can decrease the size and frequency of your stools and reduce abdominal pain while you're undergoing treatment. Whole-grain breads or cereals, brown rice, dried beans, vegetables and fruit and juices with pulp are excluded on a low-residue eating plan. Although you can have yogurt, jelly, pudding, ice cream and creamy soups, these foods must be free of seeds and pulp. Your doctor may allow you to eat refined white rice and refined breads, cereals or crackers. Soft eggs, tender poultry and fish, strained soups and broth may be allowed. A low-residue diet may limit dairy products and foods that include milk, such as puddings or creamy soups, to no more than two cups per day. Your dietary guidelines may vary according to the nature of your intestinal complications. Follow your doctor's guidelines to ensure effective treatment.


Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.