Aug 17, 2005 - 3:54 am EST

Alternative names
Laparotomy; Exploratory laparotomy

Abdominal exploration is a type of surgery where the abdomen is opened (laparotomy) and explored (exploratory laparotomy) for examination and treatment of problems.


The abdomen contains many vital organs:

  • Stomach  
  • Small intestine (jejunum and ileum)  
  • Large intestine (colon)  
  • Liver  
  • Spleen  
  • Gallbladder  
  • Pancreas  
  • Uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries (in women)  
  • Kidneys, ureters, and bladder

Some problems inside the abdomen can be easily diagnosed with noninvasive tests such as X-Rays and CT scans, but many problems require surgery to “explore” the abdomen to obtain an accurate diagnosis.

While the patient is under general anesthesia, the surgeon makes an incision into the abdomen and examines the abdominal organs. The size and location of the incision depends on the clinical situation. Tissue samples (biopsies) can be taken and diseased areas can be treated.

When the procedure is complete, the incision is closed.


Exploratory laparotomy may be recommended for diagnosis when there is abdominal disease from an unknown cause.

Diseases that may be discovered by exploratory laparotomy include the following:

  • Inflammation of the appendix (acute appendicitis)  
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (acute or chronic pancreatitis)  
  • Pockets of infection (retroperitoneal abscess, abdominal abscess, pelvic abscess))  
  • Presence of uterine tissue (endometrium) in the abdomen (endometriosis)  
  • Inflammation of the fallopian tubes (salpingitis)  
  • Scar tissue in the abdomen (adhesions)  
  • Cancer (of the ovary, colon, pancreas, liver)  
  • Inflammation of an intestinal pocket (diverticulitis)  
  • Hole in the intestine (intestinal perforation)  
  • pregnancy outside of the uterus (Ectopic pregnancy)

This surgery may also be used to determine the extent of certain cancers, such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Risks for any anesthesia include the following:

  • Reactions to medications  
  • Problems breathing

Risks for any surgery include the following:

  • Bleeding  
  • Infection

Additional risks include incisional hernia.

Expectations after surgery
The outcome from the surgery depends upon the findings.

Eating and drinking normally can usually resume two to three days after the surgery. Hospital stays vary with the severity of the underlying problem. Complete recovery usually takes about four weeks.

Last Edited: Aug 17. 2005