(Abdominal Exploration; Laparotomy, Exploratory)
by Ricker Polsdorfer, MD
Exploratory laparotomy is an open surgery of the abdomen to view the organs and tissue inside.
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:
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:
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 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? 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
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
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
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
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
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:
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Accessed May 23, 2013.
3/23/2015 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
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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
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