This is an open surgery of the abdomen to view the organs and tissue inside.
Abdominal Organs, Anterior View
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This procedure is done
to evaluate problems in the abdomen.
Problems that may need to be examined with an exploratory laparotomy include: A hole in the bowel wallEctopic pregnancy—pregnancy outside of the uterusEndometriosisAppendicitisDamage to an organ from traumaInfection in the abdomen
The procedure may also be done to stage cancer or to biopsy the area.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like: BleedingInfectionBlood clotsDamage to organsHernia formationLarge scarsReaction to the anesthesia
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as: SmokingDrinkingChronic diseases, such as diabetes or obesity
Leading up to your procedure:
Your doctor may perform the following:
Physical examBlood and urine tests
Imaging tests, such as
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
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:
Blood thinnersAntiplateletsArrange 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
, which is used in very ill patients—the area from the chest down to the legs is numbed
A long incision will be made in the skin on your abdomen. The organs will be examined for disease. The doctor may take a
. 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.
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
You will be in the hospital several days. If you have problems, you may need to stay longer.
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.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as: Washing their handsWearing gloves or masksKeeping 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 sameReminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masksNot allowing others to touch your incision
It may take several weeks for you to recover.
Follow your doctor's
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
high-fiber foodsDrinking plenty of waterUsing stool softeners if needed
Call your doctor if any of these occur: Fever or chillsRedness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision siteIncreasing pain or pain that does not go awayYour abdomen becomes swollen or hard to the touchDiarrhea
or constipation that lasts more than 3 days
Bright red or dark black stoolsLightheadedness or faintingNausea and vomitingCough, shortness of breath, or chest painPain or difficulty with urinationSwelling, redness, or pain in your leg
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Laparotomy. Better Health Channel website. Available at:
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Laparotomy. Updated July 2011. Accessed May 23, 2013.
Testing biopsy and cytology specimens for cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.org/treatment/understandingyourdiagnosis/examsandtestdescriptions/testingbiopsyandcytologyspecimensforcancer/index?sitearea=ped. Accessed May 23, 2013.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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