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Exploratory Laparotomy

(Abdominal Exploration; Laparotomy, Exploratory)
  • Definition

    This is an open surgery of the abdomen to view the organs and tissue inside.
    Abdominal Organs, Anterior View
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
  • Reasons for Procedure

    This procedure is done to evaluate problems in the abdomen.
    Problems that may need to be examined with an exploratory laparotomy include:
    The procedure may also be done to stage cancer or to biopsy the area.
  • Possible Complications

    Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
    • Bleeding
    • Infection
    • Blood clots
    • Damage to organs
    • Hernia formation
    • Large scars
    • Reaction to the anesthesia
    Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:
  • What to Expect

    Prior to Procedure
    Leading up to your procedure:
    • Your doctor may perform the following:
    • Talk to your doctor about your medicines. If your surgery was not done as emergency treatment, you may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to one week before the procedure, like:
      • Anti-inflammatory drugs
      • Blood thinners
      • Antiplatelets
    • Arrange for a ride home.
    • The night before, eat a light meal. Unless told otherwise by your doctor, do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
    You may be given:
    • General anesthesia , which is most common—blocks pain and keeps you asleep through the surgery; given through an IV in your hand or arm
    • Spinal anesthesia , which is used in very ill patients—the area from the chest down to the legs is numbed
    Description of the Procedure
    A long incision will be made in the skin on your abdomen. The organs will be examined for disease. The doctor may take a biopsy . If the problem is something that can be repaired or removed, it will be done at this time. The opening will be closed using staples or stitches.
    How Long Will It Take?
    About 1-4 hours
    How Much Will It Hurt?
    Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
    Average Hospital Stay
    You will be in the hospital several days. If you have problems, you may need to stay longer.
    Post-procedure Care
    At the Hospital
    • You may need to wear special socks or boots to help prevent blood clots.
    • You may have a foley catheter for a short time to help you urinate.
    • You may use an incentive spirometer to help you breathe deeply.
    Preventing Infection
    During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
    • Washing their hands
    • Wearing gloves or masks
    • Keeping your incisions covered
    There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
    • Washing your hands often and reminding your healthcare providers to do the same
    • Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
    • Not allowing others to touch your incision
    At Home
    It may take several weeks for you to recover.
    • Follow your doctor's instructions .
    • The doctor will remove the sutures or staples in 7-10 days.
    • Take proper care of the incision site. This will help to prevent an infection.
    • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
    • During the first two weeks, rest and avoid lifting.
    • Slowly increase your activities. Begin with light chores, short walks, and some driving. Depending on your job, you may be able to return to work.
    • To promote healing, eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables .
    • Try to avoid constipation by:
      • Eating high-fiber foods
      • Drinking plenty of water
      • Using stool softeners if needed
  • Call Your Doctor

    Call your doctor if any of these occur:
    • Fever or chills
    • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
    • Increasing pain or pain that does not go away
    • Your abdomen becomes swollen or hard to the touch
    • Diarrhea or constipation that lasts more than 3 days
    • Bright red or dark black stools
    • Lightheadedness or fainting
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
    • Pain or difficulty with urination
    • Swelling, redness, or pain in your leg
    If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

    American Cancer Society

    National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse


    Canadian Digestive Health Foundation

    Health Canada


    Laparotomy. Better Health Channel website. Available at: Updated July 2011. Accessed May 23, 2013.

    Testing biopsy and cytology specimens for cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed May 23, 2013.

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