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Abdominal exploration

Abdominal exploration is surgery to look at the organs and structures in your belly area (abdomen). This includes your:

  • Appendix
  • Bladder
  • Gallbladder
  • Intestines
  • Kidney and ureters  
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Spleen
  • Stomach
  • Uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries (in women) 

Surgery that opens the abdomen is called a laparotomy.

Exploratory laparotomy is done while you are under general anesthesia. This means you are asleep and feel no pain.

The surgeon makes a cut into the abdomen and examines the abdominal organs. The size and location of the surgical cut depends on the specific health concern.

A biopsy can be taken during the procedure.

Laparoscopy describes a group of procedures that are performed with a camera placed in the abdomen. If possible, laparoscopy will be done instead of laparotomy.

Alternative Names

Exploratory surgery; Laparotomy; Exploratory laparotomy

Why the Procedure Is Performed

Your doctor may recommend a laparatomy if imaging tests of the abdomen, such as x-rays and CT scans , have not provided an accurate diagnosis.

Exploratory laparotomy may be used to help diagnose and treat many health conditions, including:

Risks

Risks of anesthesia include:

  • Severe medication reaction
  • Problems breathing

Risks of surgery include:

  • Bleeding
  • Incisional hernia
  • Infection
  • Damage to nearby structures

Before the Procedure

You will have several visits with your health care provider and undergo medical tests before your surgery. Your health care provider will:

  • Do a complete physical exam.
  • Make sure other medical conditions you may have, such as diabetes , high blood pressure , or heart or lung problems are under control.
  • Perform tests to make sure that you will be able to tolerate the surgery.
  • If you are a smoker, you should stop smoking several weeks before your surgery. Ask your doctor or nurse for help.

Tell your doctor or nurse:

  • What drugs, vitamins, herbs, and other supplements you are taking, even ones you bought without a prescription.
  • If you have been drinking a lot of alcohol, more than 1 or 2 drinks a day

During the week before your surgery:

  • You may be asked to stop taking drugs that make it hard for your blood to clot. Some of these are aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), vitamin E, warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or ticlopidine (Ticlid).
  • Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of your surgery. Prepare your home for your return from the hospital.

On the day of your surgery:

  • Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery.
  • Take the medications your doctor prescribed with small sips of water.Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.

Outlook (Prognosis)

You should be able to start eating and drinking normally about 2 - 3 days after the surgery. How long you stay in the hospital depends on the severity of the problem. Complete recovery usually takes about 4 weeks.

References

Martin RS, Meredith JW. Management of acute trauma. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 18.

Squires RA, Postier RG. Acute abdomen. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 47.

Updated: 4/9/2014

Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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