Exploratory Laparotomy

(Abdominal Exploration; Laparotomy, Exploratory)

Pronounced: LAP-uh-ROT-uh-mee


This is an open surgery of the abdomen to view the organs and tissue inside.

Abdominal Organs, Anterior View

AC00010_97870_1_abdominal organs.jpg
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Reasons for Procedure    TOP

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    TOP

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    TOP

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    TOP

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?    TOP

About 1-4 hours

How Much Will It Hurt?    TOP

Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.

Average Hospital Stay    TOP

You will be in the hospital several days. If you have problems, you may need to stay longer.

Post-procedure Care    TOP

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.

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. 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    TOP

It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:

  • 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


Laparotomy. Better Health Channel website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated July 2011. Accessed May 23, 2013.
Testing biopsy and cytology specimens for cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed May 23, 2013.
3/23/2015 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
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Short V, Herbert G, et al. Chewing gum for postoperative recovery of gastrointestinal function. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Feb 20;2.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Last Updated: 3/23/2015

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