An exploratory laparotomy is a type of surgery to look at your organs and the structures in your belly area. Exploratory laparotomy was first documented in 1842, where it was used to examine and treat the internal bleeding of someone who was run over by a Conestoga wagon.
This surgery is usually performed in patients who have acute or unexplained abdominal pain, patients who have had sustained abdominal trauma, and patients who have malignant tumors in their abdomen that need to be removed and staged.
Organs and an Exploratory Laparotomy
Parts of the body that are examined by a doctor during an exploratory laparotomy are:
- Kidney and Ureters
During exploratory laparotomy, you will be put under general anesthesia. The surgeon will make a cut in your abdomen and examine your abdominal organs. Depending on the specific health concern your doctor is addressing, the size and location of the incision changes. Sometimes a biopsy is taken during an exploratory laparotomy. Laparoscopy describes a group of procedures performed with a special camera that goes into the abdomen. If at all possible, your surgeon will examine your abdomen through laparoscopy rather than laparotomy, because laparoscopy is considerably less invasive, heals faster, and has a lower risk of infection.
When an Exploratory Laparotomy is Necessary
Your doctor will recommend an exploratory laparotomy only if imaging tests like CT scans and x-rays can not provide an accurate diagnosis.
Health conditions your doctor may address during an exploratory laparotomy:
- Cancer of the ovary, colon, pancreas, and liver
- Abdominal Abscess
- Acute Appendicitis
- Adhesions (scar tissue on your abdomen)
- Chronic Pancreatitis
- Ectopic Pregnancy
- Intestinal Perforation
- Liver Abscess
- Pelvic Abscess
- Retroperitoneal Abscess
Risks Involved in an Exploratory Laparotomy
There are two types of risks involved in any surgical procedure you will undergo. The first category of risk is the risk of anesthesia, which includes the small possibility you will have an adverse reaction to the medication administered to you. You also run the risk of having problems breathing when you are under general anesthesia. The second category of risk is the risk involved in the surgical procedure itself. As with any surgery, you run the risk of bleeding, incisional hernia, damage to nearby organs or structures, and infection.
Your doctor will check you over several visits to make sure you are in the right position to go into surgery. A complete physical exam, as well as a discussion of all your other medical conditions, will be first. Then your doctor will perform other tests on you to make sure your body can tolerate surgery. If you smoke, you should stop smoking several weeks before your laparotomy. If you need help to quit, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor or nurse for help. Make sure to let your doctor or nurse know all drugs, supplements, herbs, and vitamins you are taking, and if you have been drinking a lot of alcohol, like more than one or two drinks a day.
Exploratory Laparotomy Surgery
On the day of your exploratory laparotomy, make sure you have not eaten or drank anything after midnight the night before. Take the medications your doctor prescribed to you with small sips of water.
Completely recovering from your exploratory laparotomy takes about a month. You can start eating or drinking normally in about two or three days after your surgery. Depending on the severity of your abdominal issues, your hospital stay can be short or long.
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