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Exploratory Laparotomy

(Abdominal Exploration; Laparotomy, Exploratory)

Pronounced: LAP-uh-ROT-uh-mee
En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Reasons for Procedure | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Call Your Doctor

Definition

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

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

Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a laparotomy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Damage to organs
  • Hernia formation
  • Large scars
  • Reaction to the anesthesia

Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Previous abdominal surgery
  • Diabetes
  • Heart or lung disease
  • Weak immune system
  • Blood disorders
  • Taking certain medications
  • Smoking, alcohol abuse, or drug use

Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.

What to Expect

Leading up to your procedure:

  • Your doctor may perform the following:
  • Talk to your doctor about your medicines. If your surgery was not done as emergency treatment, you may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to one week before the procedure, like:
    • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin
    • Blood thinners
    • Anti-platelet medications
  • 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:

  • General anesthesia, which is most common—blocks pain and keeps you asleep through the surgery; given through an IV in your hand or arm
  • Spinal anesthesia, which is used in very ill patients—the area from the chest down to the legs is numbed

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.

About 1-4 hours

Anesthesia will prevent pain during the procedure. You will be given medicine for pain and soreness after surgery.

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.

It may take several weeks for you to recover.

  • Follow your doctor's instructions .
  • The doctor will remove the sutures or staples in 7-10 days.
  • Take proper care of the incision site. This will help to prevent an infection.
  • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
  • During the first two weeks, rest and avoid lifting.
  • Slowly increase your activities. Begin with light chores, short walks, and some driving. Depending on your job, you may be able to return to work.
  • To promote healing, eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Try to avoid constipation by:

Call Your Doctor

After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • 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

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

American Cancer Society

http://www.cancer.org

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Digestive Health Foundation

http://www.cdhf.ca

References:

Laparotomy. Better Health Channel website. Available at: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/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.

Last reviewed May 2013 by Marcin Chwistek, MD; Michael Woods, 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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