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

Abdominal Organs, Anterior View

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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:

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 medicines
  • Smoking, alcohol abuse, or drug use

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

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:
  • 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:

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
  • Dizziness 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 911.