Prevention of Surgical Adhesions Could Save U.S. Health Care System Millions of Dollars, Proposes Author and Activist Karen Steward

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Karen Steward, activist and advocate for patients with Adhesion Related Disorder, today stated that an awareness of the cost of treating adhesions, or internal scar tissue, may encourage hospitals and insurance companies to focus their attention on adhesion prevention. With the cost of treating surgical adhesions now estimated at over $1 billion annually in the United States, according to a February 2012 article published in the "Nursing for Women's Health," Steward proposed that improving adhesion prevention techniques could save the American health care system millions of dollars.

An image of abdominal adhesions are shown in the photo. Image courtesy of EndoGyn, Ltd., Braunschweig, Germany

While all symptoms may point to adhesions, most doctors are reluctant to diagnose this all-too-common condition. Sufferers are often written off as depressed individuals, or diagnosed and treated for conditions they do not have.

Responding to an article published in the Feburary 2012 issue of "Nursing for Women's Health," activist Karen Steward today called for increased national attention to the costs of treating surgical adhesions. In the article, author Carol Burke, MSN, RNC-OB, ANP presents information stating that surgical fees and hospital expenses for adhesion-related health problems reach approximately $1.3 billion each year. Burke states that peritoneal adhesions, or scar tissue affecting the abdominal organs, can have a serious impact on a patient’s health and quality of life.

While internal scarring may be caused by an infection or an inflammatory condition, the most common cause for abdominal and pelvic adhesions is surgery. During a surgical procedure, contact with gloves, surgical instruments, sponges or blood may damage the delicate membranes that protect internal organs. Once these membranes have been damaged, the exposed tissues may stick together, forming fibrous scars. Appendectomy, colectomy, Cesarean delivery and hysterectomy are among the common surgeries that can cause bands of scar tissue to form in internal tissues, according to an article by B. Schnüringer and colleagues published in the January 2011 issue of the "American Journal of Surgery." The use of bioabsorbable adhesion barriers, combined with meticulous surgical technique to minimize contact with the internal organs during surgery, may lower the risk of adhesion formation. Performing procedures through laparoscopy -- a minimally invasive approach that involves visualizing the internal organs with a small video camera -- rather than through traditional open surgery may also reduce the risk of adhesion formation.

Karen Steward, who works on behalf of patients who suffer from Adhesion Related Disorder, or ARD, notes that for the patients, the costs of adhesions go far beyond the cost of the surgeon and the hospital. Patients with abdominal or pelvic adhesions can experience debilitating abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea and bloating for years before the condition is diagnosed. The symptoms of ARD can cause these patients to miss work, lose their jobs and spend thousands of dollars on unsuccessful medical treatment. If internal scar tissue blocks or twists the organs, adhesions may lead to bowel strangulation, bowel obstruction or female infertility.

“With the personal and financial costs of adhesion-related health problems so high, health insurance companies and hospitals should focus their attention on preventing adhesions,” Steward states. “Surgeons should be educated not only on how to reduce the risk of adhesions, but on how to inform their patients of these risks. Hospitals and insurance companies may be more willing to cover the cost of preventive measures like adhesion barriers if they realize how much money is being spent to treat conditions caused by post-operative adhesions.”

Karen Steward is the author of the book Doctors: Bound By Secrecy? Victims: Bound By Pain! Steward's daughter, Melissa, suddenly became ill at age thirteen. Originally diagnosed with Crohn's disease and sent home to live with the excruciating abdominal "attacks," Steward became convinced her daughter had been misdiagnosed. Uncovering the truth behind the illness, however, was a nightmare. Fourteen years passed before Melissa was properly diagnosed, yet a mere four-hour surgery relieved her daughter of the agonizing condition. Steward now dedicates much of her life to ARD awareness.

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