by EBSCO Medical Review Board
(Abdominal Exploration; Laparotomy, Exploratory)


Exploratory laparotomy is an open surgery of the belly to view the organs and tissue inside.

Abdominal Organs, Anterior View
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Reasons for Procedure

This surgery is done to find the cause of problems, such as:

The surgery may also be done to stage cancer or to biopsy the area.

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excess bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Damage to organs
  • Hernia

Things that may raise the risk of problems are:

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before surgery
  • Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Arranging for a ride to and from surgery
  • Specialists you may need to see
  • Tests that will need to be done before surgery, such as imaging tests


You may be given:

Description of the Procedure

A long incision will be made in the skin on the belly. The organs will be viewed for signs of health problems. The doctor may take a biopsy of tissue for testing. Any problem that can be repaired or removed will be done. The opening will be closed using staples or stitches. A bandage will be placed over the area.

How Long Will It Take?

About 1 to 4 hours

Will It Hurt?

Pain and swelling are common in the first few weeks. Medicine and home care can help.

Average Hospital Stay

You will be in the hospital several days. If you have problems, you may need to stay longer.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

Right after the procedure, the staff may give you medicine to treat pain.

During your stay, staff will take steps to lower your chance of infection, such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping your incisions covered

You can also lower your chance of infection by:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and staff to do the same
  • Reminding staff to wear gloves or masks
  • Not letting others touch your incisions
At Home

It may take several weeks for the incision and muscles to heal. Activities will be limited for the first few weeks.

Call Your Doctor

Call the doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision
  • Pain that is not helped by medicine
  • A belly that is hard or swollen
  • Diarrhea or constipation that lasts more than three days
  • Bright red or dark black stools
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Lasting nausea and vomiting
  • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • Problems urinating
  • Leg swelling, redness, or pain

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Cancer Society 

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases 


Canadian Digestive Health Foundation 

Health Canada 


Abdominal exploration. Mount Sinai website. Available at: Accessed August 13, 2020.

Hildebrand DR, Ben-Sassi A, et al. Modern management of splenic trauma. BMJ. 2014 Apr 2;348:g1864.

Laparotomy. Better Health Channel website. Available at: Accessed August 13, 2020.

Splenic injury and rupture. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Accessed August 14, 2020.

3/23/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance : Short V, Herbert G, Perry R, et al. Chewing gum for postoperative recovery of gastrointestinal function. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;2:CD006506.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
  • Review Date: 03/2020
  • Update Date: 03/03/2021