Gallbladder adhesions happen when scar tissue develops around your gallbladder after surgery or an episode of inflammation.

Gallbladder adhesions are bands of scar tissue that form on your gallbladder. This tough adhesive tissue causes your gallbladder to stick to surrounding abdominal tissues. Gallbladder adhesions typically develop after abdominal surgery or when a condition such as gallstones causes inflammation in your gallbladder.

Researchers estimate that about 90% of adhesions in the abdominal cavity, including gallbladder adhesions, result from abdominal surgery. Gallbladder adhesions often don’t cause symptoms but may complicate future gallbladder surgery.

This article takes a deep look at gallbladder adhesions. You’ll learn what they are, when they’re most likely to develop, and how they affect your health.

An adhesion is an area of scar tissue that connects two tissues that aren’t usually connected. Gallbladder adhesions can cause your gallbladder to stick to other organs, such as your bowel or omentum. The omentum is a layer of fatty tissue inside your abdominal cavity.

In a 2021 study from Indonesia, researchers found that slightly more than half of 157 people who received laparoscopic surgery to remove an inflamed gallbladder had adhesions. The researchers believed that most cases were due to delayed surgery.

In many cases, abdominal adhesions don’t cause any noticeable symptoms or need treatment. But in some cases, they may cause general abdominal symptoms such as pain and cramping.

Adhesions are the result of your body creating scar tissue, which it does when it’s healing from an injury.

Gallbladder adhesions can form after surgery or as a result of conditions such as acute cholecystitis. Acute cholecystitis is the sudden inflammation of your gallbladder, typically caused by gallstones. Adhesions usually develop within 96 hours of this inflammatory event.

About 90% of people who undergo open abdominal surgery develop some abdominal adhesions. An open surgery is any abdominal surgery performed through large incisions, such as gallbladder removal or cesarean delivery.

Adhesions are less common among people who receive laparoscopic surgery, which is the method used in most gallbladder procedures today. Laparoscopic surgery involves making small incisions and using a thin tube with a camera and other small surgical tools. Weight loss surgery and laparotomy are other common abdominal laparoscopic procedures.

The gold standard treatment for sudden gallbladder inflammation is laparoscopic cholecystectomy, the removal of the gallbladder through a small incision.

The formation of adhesions between the gallbladder and other tissues, such as the omentum or bowel, can complicate laparoscopic surgery. When surgeons cut through adhesions, they risk damaging your gallbladder or bile duct.

Surgeons may have to switch from laparoscopic surgery to more invasive open surgery if they discover adhesions during your gallbladder procedure. This helps them ensure that they can access your gallbladder safely.

Researchers estimate that 4–15% of laparoscopic gallbladder removal surgeries must be converted to open surgery. Gallbladder adhesions are one of the main reasons for conversion.

Bowel obstruction

Some abdominal adhesions can cause bowel obstruction, which can be life threatening. Possible symptoms include:

It’s critical to seek immediate medical attention any time you develop severe abdominal pain and an inability to pass gas.

Adhesions are common after abdominal surgery. Surgeons often won’t perform laparoscopic gallbladder surgery if you have a history of abdominal surgery due to the high risk of adhesions.

Types of surgeries that may cause gallbladder adhesions include:

  • small intestine or stomach ulcer surgery
  • major bowel surgery
  • major blood vessel surgery
  • emergency abdominal surgery

Surgeries that involve a small incision, such as an appendectomy, rarely interfere with successful laparoscopic gallbladder surgery.

Doctors may be able to see whether you have gallbladder adhesions before your surgery by using a type of imaging called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography.

Researchers in a 2019 study sought to find out whether an elevated white blood cell count in people with an inflamed gallbladder might be associated with a higher risk of gallbladder adhesions. They did not find a significant correlation.

Gallbladder adhesions are bands of scar tissue that connect your gallbladder to other tissues in your abdomen. They can form after abdominal surgery or as a complication of conditions that cause gallbladder inflammation, such as gallstones.

Gallbladder adhesions often don’t cause symptoms, but they may complicate future surgery. In rare cases, they may cause serious complications such as bowel obstruction.