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Exploratory Laparotomy: What to Expect at Home


An exploratory laparotomy is a surgery that allows a doctor to look inside your belly. Reasons for the surgery may include checking for injuries, finding out what's causing symptoms, seeing how far a disease like cancer has spread, and more.

After the surgery, you may feel weak and tired. You may be sick to your stomach. It's common to have some pain in your belly and around your cut (incision).

The pain should get better over the next few weeks. You may be able to go back to your usual activities in 2 to 4 weeks. Your bowel movements may not be regular for several weeks after the surgery.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?


  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Allow your body to heal. Don't move quickly or lift anything heavy until you are feeling better.
  • Be active. Walking is a good choice.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • Many people are able to return to work within a few weeks after surgery.
  • Ask your doctor when it is okay for you to have sex.


  • Unless your doctor says otherwise, you can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, start with small amounts of bland foods.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular for 1 to 2 weeks after your surgery. This is common. If that's the case, try to avoid constipation and straining. Drink plenty of water. Your doctor may suggest fibre, a stool softener, or a mild laxative.


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also be given instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over- the-counter medicine.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • Store your prescription pain medicines where no one else can get to them. When you are done using them, dispose of them quickly and safely. Your local pharmacy or hospital may have a drop-off site.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

  • You will have a dressing or a skin adhesive over the cut (incision). This helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of it.
  • If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on until it falls off.
  • If you have staples or you have stitches that don't dissolve on their own, your doctor will tell you when to come back to have them removed.
  • You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it oozes fluid or rubs against clothing.
  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery. Pat the incision dry. Don't swim or take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Gently wash the area daily with warm, soapy water, rinse, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. They can slow healing. If you have a bandage when you leave the hospital, change it every day as instructed, and as needed if it gets wet or dirty.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

Other instructions

  • Hold a pillow over your incision when you cough or take deep breaths. This will support your belly and decrease your pain.
  • Do breathing exercises at home as instructed by your doctor. This can help prevent pneumonia.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You are short of breath.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You cannot pass stools or gas after your surgery.
  • You are sick to your stomach and cannot drink fluids.
  • You have loose staples or stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You have signs of a blood clot in your leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems.

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.