What Is a Frozen Abdomen?


Frozen abdomen refers to a medical condition that occurs when repeatedly surgically removing fibrous bands in the abdomen results in a build-up of scar tissue that prohibits further surgical procedures. However, these bands must be removed; in severe cases they can cause intestinal obstructions, infertility and bowel strangulation.

These adhesions are caused by appendicitis, internal injuries and abdominal surgeries that cause the tissues to bind together, causing pain, nausea, vomiting and cramping.

Adhesions are estimated to develop in 90 to 95 percent of surgical patients with varying severity. Treatment has a wide spectrum, ranging from bowel obstruction management techniques to surgical intervention. However, continued surgical intervention often worsens the condition in the long term. Developments in surgical technology and procedures have reduced the likelihood of patients developing frozen abdomen, but they are still considered common.

Non-invasive treatments have been tested, but none have proven consistently effective. Because surgery provides only temporary relief, it is reserved for patients who do not respond to other methods first. Patients with severe scarring that creates a bowel obstruction that puts the bowels at risk of strangulation or necrosis are usually operated on immediately. However, frozen abdomen sometimes manifests solely as pain; before the condition can be diagnosed and surgery recommended, all other possible sources of pain such as gallbladder disease must be eliminated first.