Exploratory laparotomy 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
Talk to your doctor about your medications. If your surgery was not done as emergency treatment, you may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure.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.
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 of suspicious tissue. The tissue can be examined under a microscope. 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.Your bowels will work more slowly than usual. Chewing gum may help speed the process of your bowel function returning to normal.
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. Your activities will be restricted for the first couple of weeks. Once cleared by your doctor, you can slowly resume normal activity. You may be given a prescription to help with any remaining discomfort. Follow the wound care instructions to prevent infection.
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as: 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 emergency medical services right away.
Laparotomy.Victoria State Government Better Health Channel website. Available at:
https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/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.
3/23/2015 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Short V, Herbert G, Perry R, et al. Chewing gum for postoperative recovery of gastrointestinal function. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;2:CD006506.
Last reviewed March 2016 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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