Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Laparotomy

3-minute read

A laparotomy is an operation to look inside your abdomen, and at the organs there. There are many reasons why this operation might be needed.

Why might a laparotomy be needed?

A laparotomy might be needed to look for problems in the abdomen or internal organs, or to treat a particular condition. For example, it might be done to find out why you have abdominal (tummy) pain, if you have an injury to your abdomen, to look at the spread of certain diseases such as endometriosis and cancer. Sometimes it’s done in emergency situations.

A laparotomy needs a fairly large incision in the abdomen. It is different from a laparoscopy, which is keyhole surgery to look into the abdomen.

You should discuss with your doctor why a laparotomy might be necessary.

How to prepare for a laparotomy

YYou might need to have blood tests or other tests before your surgery. You will be asked to fast (not have anything to eat or drink) on the day of the procedure. Check with your doctor whether you need to stop taking any particular medicines before your surgery.

What happens during a laparotomy?

You will be given a general anaesthetic, so you won’t be awake during the surgery. A cut will be made in your abdomen, so the doctor can look inside. Other procedures might be done at the same time, depending on the type of problem. You should discuss these possibilities with your doctor.

What to expect after a laparotomy

A laparotomy is a significant operation, and recovery will take time.

When you wake, you might have a catheter (a tube in your bladder) to help you pass urine. You will be given medicine for pain.

It may be a while before you can eat and drink normally, and you will probably need time off work to recover. You might have stitches or staples in the wound that will need to be removed. Your doctor can advise you about having this done.

You will probably stay in hospital for at least a few days after the surgery.

What can go wrong?

This is usually a safe procedure, but there are some risks. In rare cases, there might be bleeding, or infection, or damage to the organs inside your abdomen. Sometimes people get blood clots after surgery. If you have fever, severe pain, nausea or vomiting, or redness or pus around the wound, you should see a doctor.

More information

Read more about Should I have surgery, Preparing for surgery and How to find the right health professional. You should ask your doctor if you have questions about your laparotomy.

Last reviewed: November 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Laparotomy - Better Health Channel

A laparotomy is a surgical incision into the abdominal cavity used to examine the abdominal organs and aid diagnosis.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Endometriosis management & treatment | Jean Hailes

There are many options to manage and treat endometriosis including a healthy lifestyle, pain relief medications, hormone therapy such as the oral contraceptive pill and progestins. Different types of surgery including laparoscopy, laparotomy and hysterectomy.

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

Laparoscopy - Better Health Channel

The advantage of laparoscopy is that only a small incision is required, which is why it is also known as 'keyhole surgery'.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

RANZCOG WEBSITE - Hysteroscopy

A hysteroscopy is a procedure used to examine the inside of the uterus (womb).

Read more on RANZCOG - Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website

Pregnancy - Pregnancy Topics - Ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy is when the baby starts to develop outside the uterus (womb), most commonly in a Fallopian tube

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Rare Cancers Australia - Directory - Small Intestine Cancer

Rare Cancers Australia is a charity whose purpose is to improve the lives and health outcomes of Australians living with a rare or less common cancer.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

Ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilised egg implants outside the uterus (womb)

Read more on WA Health website

Rare Cancers Australia - Directory - Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors

Rare Cancers Australia is a charity whose purpose is to improve the lives and health outcomes of Australians living with a rare or less common cancer.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

Ovarian Germ Cell Tumour - Information & Support - CanTeen

An ovarian germ cell tumour is a female specific tumour often called an ovarian teratoma. Learn more about causes, diagnosis and treatments with CanTeen.

Read more on CanTeen website

Rare Cancers Australia - Directory - Childhood Pancreatic Cancer

Rare Cancers Australia is a charity whose purpose is to improve the lives and health outcomes of Australians living with a rare or less common cancer.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo