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Exploratory Laparotomy
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Exploratory Laparotomy Overview

Written by FoundHealth.


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

Abdominal Organs, Anterior View
Abdominal Organs, Anterior View
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Leading up to your procedure:

  • Your doctor may perform the following:
  • Physical exam
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Ultrasound —a test that uses sound waves to visualize the inside of the body
  • CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of the inside of the body
  • MRI scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of the inside of the body
  • Talk to your doctor about your medicines. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to one week before the procedure, like:
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (eg, aspirin )
  • Blood thinners, like clopidogrel (Plavix) or warfarin (Coumadin)
  • 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.


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

Description of the Procedure

The doctor will make one long incision 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?

About 1-4 hours

How Much Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia will prevent pain during the procedure. For pain and soreness after surgery, you will get medicine.

Average Hospital Stay

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.

At Home

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.
  • Take showers instead of baths.
  • 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:
  • Eating high-fiber foods
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Using stool softeners if needed



American Cancer Society

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse


Canadian Digestive Health Foundation

Health Canada


Abdominal exploration. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia website. Available at: . Updated October 2008. Accessed August 8, 2009.

Carson-DeWitt R. Spinal and epidural anesthesia. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: . Updated July 2009. Accessed August 8, 2009.

Laparoscopic surgery. Women's Surgery Group website. Available at: . Accessed August 8, 2009.

Testing biopsy and cytology specimens for cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: . Updated December 2007. Accessed June 5, 2008.



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