Laparotomy, Exploratory

What is an exploratory laparotomy?

An exploratory laparotomy is a surgery which allows your healthcare provider to look more closely at organs and tissues in your abdomen (belly) or pelvis (the area below your belly and between your hips). These organs include the liver, intestines, gallbladder, appendix and, in women, the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. This procedure may help your provider find and treat the cause of medical problems you may be having, such as:

  • Pain, an abnormal lump, or fluid in your abdomen
  • Appendicitis
  • Liver disease
  • Bowel problems
  • Gallstones
  • Uterine or ovarian problems

How is an exploratory laparotomy done?

Before the procedure:

  • Follow any instructions your provider gives you to prepare for surgery, including not eating or drinking anything.
  • Your healthcare provider will ask you to sign a consent form for a laparotomy. The consent form will state the reason you are having the procedure, what happens during the procedure, and what you may expect afterward.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are allergic to any medicines.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are taking any medicines, including nonprescription drugs, herbal remedies, or illegal drugs (if any).
  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow for medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.

During the procedure:

  • You will be given medicines to prevent pain during your surgery. These may include:
    • Regional anesthesia: Numbs the lower half of your body while you remain awake.
    • General anesthesia: Relaxes your muscles and puts you to sleep. A breathing tube is usually put in your throat when you have general anesthesia.
  • You may have a small tube (catheter) placed into your bladder through the urethra (the opening from the bladder to the outside of the body) to drain and measure urine from the bladder.
  • Your surgeon will make an incision (cut) in your abdomen. The size of the cut will depend on what your doctor needs to see and possibly treat.
  • Your provider will be able to treat any abnormal conditions he or she sees, including:
    • Removing an infected or inflamed appendix or other part of the bowel
    • Removing a gallbladder with gallstones
    • Removing your uterus or ovaries
    • Removing a tumor. If an abnormal growth is found, your provider may take a sample of the growth to send to the lab for testing. Or the entire growth may be removed
    • Draining fluid from the abdomen. If you have an infection, the surgeon may leave a drainage tube in your surgery site to let the infection drain from your body for a few days after surgery.

After the procedure:

  • You will be checked often by nursing staff.
  • Your blood oxygen level will be monitored by a sensor that is attached to your finger or earlobe.
  • Your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature will be checked regularly.
  • Your sutures and dressing will be checked regularly.
  • If you have a drainage tube, your dressings will be changed often.
  • You may have a small tube (catheter) placed into your bladder through the urethra (the opening from the bladder to the outside of the body) to measure the amount of urine in and drain urine from the bladder.
  • For the first day or so after surgery, you may not be given anything to eat or drink. Then you will be allowed to have small amounts of water, later clear liquids, and then some solid food until you are able to have a regular diet.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Prevent side effects, such as nausea or constipation, from other treatments
    • Soften stool and reduce straining with a bowel movement

What can I do to help?

  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:
    • Dizziness
    • Fainting
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Shortness of breath
    • Abdominal cramps or pain or bloating
    • Swelling, redness, or pain in your legs
    • Change in bowel habits, such as pain, mucus, diarrhea, constipation, or other intestinal problems
    • Signs of infection around your surgical wound. These include:
      • The area around the wound is more red or painful.
      • The wound area is very warm to touch.
      • You have blood, pus, or other fluid coming from the wound area.
      • You have chills or muscle aches.
  • Ask questions about any medicine or treatment or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

How long you will need to stay in the hospital will depend on the reason you needed the laparotomy, your treatments, and how well you recover. This is often 5 to 10 days after you have the procedure.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-12-11
Last reviewed: 2015-01-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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