What is Laparotomy?

Laparotomy is the general medical term for a surgery performed on the abdomen using the traditional full-size incision, rather than a minimally invasive approach. Another name for this common surgery is a coeliotomy. This surgery is usually done on an exploratory basis.

The term exploratory laparotomy is often used to describe a procedure that is being used to determine the nature of an illness. For example, if a patient is having abdominal pain and the source of that pain is not clear, the surgeon will schedule an exploratory laparotomy.

Common Reasons For a Laparotomy

  • Large and Small Intestine
  • Liver
  • Urinary System-Kidneys, Ureters and Bladder
  • Female Reproductive System
  • Gallbladder
  • Spleen
  • Pancreas
  • General abdominal complaints

Laparotomy pre-operation

For a time before certain types of anaesthetic you will need to stop eating, drinking and chewing gum. Most women will have a general anaesthetic, which means you will be asleep throughout.The anaesthetist will visit you before your operation and discuss the anaesthetic with you. You may be given an enema or some other form of bowel preparation to help empty your bowels.

Laparotomy procedureA laparotomy is performed under general anaesthesia. The surgeon makes a single cut through the skin and muscle of the abdomen, so that the underlying organs can be clearly viewed. The exposed organs are then carefully examined. Once diagnosed, the problem may be fixed on the spot (for example, a perforated bowel may be repaired). In other cases, a second operation may be needed. Once the laparotomy is complete, the muscle of the abdominal wall and the overlying skin are sutured (sewn) closed.

recovery and post-op

  • You may have a drain inserted at the wound site
  • A small tube may have been passed through your nose and into your stomach to help drain stomach secretions for a day or two. This rests your digestive tract as it heals
  • It is usual to feel drowsy for several hours. You will be given oxygen through a facemask
  • until you are more awake.
  • You are given intravenous fluids (directly into the vein), as you may not be allowed to eat for a few days.
  • Pain relief should be given regularly.
  • It is important to get out of bed and take a short walk the day after your operation
  • The morning after your operation you will be encouraged to have a wash
  • Try to rest as much as possible for two weeks (Length of stay at home is usually between 2 – 4 days)
  • You may need a modified diet following discharge from hospital.

Laparotomy risks

Possible complications of laparotomy include:

  • Haemorrhage (bleeding)
  • Infection
  • Damage to internal organs
  • Formation of internal scar tissue (adhesions)
  • Bowel blockages or abdominal pain, which may be caused by adhesions.