(Abdominal Exploration; Laparotomy, Exploratory)
Exploratory laparotomy is an open surgery of the abdomen to view the organs and tissue inside.
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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:
- A hole in the bowel wall
- Ectopic pregnancy —pregnancy outside of the uterus
- Damage to an organ from trauma
- Infection 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:
- 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 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.
You may be given:
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 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.
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.
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.
- 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 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
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.
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
- Persistent 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 emergency medical services right away.
American Cancer Society
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
Abdominal exploration. Mount Sinai website. Available at: http://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/surgery/abdominal-exploration. Updated . Accessed April 3, 2018.
Laparotomy. Better Health Channel website. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/laparotomy. Updated August 2014. Accessed April 3, 2018.
Laparotomy, exploratory. Encyclopedia of Surgery website. Available at: http://www.surgeryencyclopedia.com/La-Pa/Laparotomy-Exploratory.html. Accessed April 3, 2018.
3/23/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900261/Colorectal-surgery-considerations: 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 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD Last Updated: 3/23/2015