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Exploratory Laparotomy


An exploratory laparotomy is surgery to look for causes of pain, infection, disease, or scar tissue inside your abdomen. An exploratory laparotomy may help your healthcare provider diagnose a medical problem. If your healthcare provider finds a problem during exploratory laparotomy, he may fix it.


The week before your surgery:

  • Ask your healthcare provider if you need to stop using aspirin or any other prescribed or over-the-counter medicine before your procedure or surgery.
  • Bring your medicine bottles or a list of your medicines when you see your healthcare provider. Tell your provider if you are allergic to any medicine. Tell your provider if you use any herbs, food supplements, or over-the-counter medicine.
  • Arrange a ride home. Ask a family member or friend to drive you home after your surgery or procedure. Do not drive yourself home.
  • You may need blood tests, x-rays, or other tests before your surgery. Ask your healthcare provider for more information. Write down the date, time, and location of each test.
  • Take any medicine that your healthcare provider has given you before surgery exactly as ordered.
  • You may need to empty your bowel before surgery. This may help prevent a bowel infection after surgery. Ask if you need to do the following:
    • Eat high-fiber foods for 1 to 2 days before surgery. Examples are fruits, vegetables, and whole-wheat cereals and breads. Drink 6 to 8 (eight-ounce) cups of liquids each day, unless your healthcare provider tells you not to.
    • Take a laxative to help empty your bowel. This medicine may cause diarrhea.
  • Write down the correct date, time, and location of your surgery.

The night before your surgery:

  • Ask healthcare providers about directions for eating and drinking.

The day of your surgery:

  • Ask your healthcare provider before taking any medicine on the day of your procedure. These medicines include insulin, diabetic pills, high blood pressure pills, or heart pills. Bring a list of all the medicines you take, or your pill bottles, with you to the hospital.
  • An anesthesiologist will talk to you before your surgery. This healthcare provider will give you medicine to make you sleep during surgery.
  • You or a close family member will be asked to sign a legal document called a consent form. It gives healthcare providers permission to do the procedure or surgery. It also explains the problems that may happen, and your choices. Make sure all your questions are answered before you sign this form.


What will happen:

  • You may be given medicine in your IV to help you relax or make you drowsy. You will get medicine called anesthesia to prevent pain or keep you asleep during surgery. Healthcare providers will clean your abdomen with soap before surgery. Sheets will be put over you to keep the surgery area clean.
  • Your surgeon will make an incision in your abdomen. The size of the incision will depend on what type of problem the surgeon is looking for. Once the surgeon is finished with the laparotomy, he will close your abdomen. The surgeon will use stitches to sew up the tissue underneath your skin. Then he will use sutures or staples to close the incision.

After surgery:

You will be taken to a recovery room. You will be watched closely until healthcare providers know that you are okay. You will then be taken back to your room. Do not get out of bed until your healthcare provider says it is okay.


  • You have a fever.
  • The problems for which you are having surgery get worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your surgery.


Surgery could cause bleeding, breathing problems, or an infection. Your intestines may slow down after surgery, causing bloating and discomfort. Organs such as your liver, lungs, and spleen could be damaged during surgery. You may get a blood clot in your leg or arm. The clot may travel to your heart or brain and cause life-threatening problems, such as a heart attack or stroke. After surgery, scar tissue may grow where the surgery was done. You may also get a weak area around the incision called an incisional hernia.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.