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What Is an Exploratory Laparotomy Surgery?

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Updated April 15, 2014

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Laparotomy Abdominal Surgery
Laparotomy Incisions Image

Laparotomy Incisions

Image: © ADAM

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. The larger incision allows the surgeon to visualize the organs, blood vessels and tissues in the abdominal cavity. The equivalent procedure using the minimally invasive laparoscopic technique is called laparoscopy.

The decision to perform the procedure open or laparoscopically, rests with the surgeon and what, if anything, he expects to find during surgery. If the surgery is being done as an emergency, the surgeon may perform a laparotomy versus a laparoscopy because it provides a larger view and can be quicker than the minimally invasive approach.

During an exploratory laparotomy, tissue samples also may be taken in a procedure called a biopsy. This is done to help with a diagnosis of abdominal problems as the tissue can be examined under a microscope and the issue may be diagnosed in that way.

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