• Exploratory Laparotomy

    (Abdominal Exploration; Laparotomy, Exploratory)


    Exploratory laparotomy is an open surgery of the abdomen to view the organs and tissue inside.
    Abdominal Organs, Anterior View
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    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:
    The procedure may also be done to stage cancer or to biopsy the area.

    Possible Complications

    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

    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.

    Post-procedure Care

    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

    Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
    • 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 emergency medical services right away.


    American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org

    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases http://www.niddk.nih.gov


    Canadian Digestive Health Foundation http://www.cdhf.ca

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca


    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 Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com: Short V, Herbert G, Perry R, et al. Chewing gum for postoperative recovery of gastrointestinal function. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;2:CD006506.

    Revision Information

    • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD
    • Review Date: 03/2017
    • Update Date: 03/23/2015
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