When your car isn’t running properly, you can simply bring it to the shop and take a look under the hood to see what is wrong. Getting a look inside a human, however, is a little more difficult. 

Major abdominal surgery is a hazardous business. While it may be necessary to open you up to perform some procedures, doctors are increasingly relying on laparoscopy to get a look inside without making large incisions in your abdomen.

What is a Diagnostic Laparoscopy?

Also known as exploratory laparoscopy, diagnostic laparoscopy is a procedure where a doctor or team of surgeons will make small incisions in your abdomen. Through one of these small cuts, a device called a laparoscope is inserted. This thin, flexible tube has a camera and light at one end and can be controlled by your surgeon to get a look around inside your body. Sometimes it is also possible to retrieve a tissue sample to perform a biopsy to determine whether a mass is cancerous. 

During a laparoscopy, one main incision is often made in your belly button where the laparoscope can be threaded in. Other smaller incisions made elsewhere in your abdominal cavity if other surgical instruments are needed to help perform your surgical procedure. Sometimes carbon dioxide gas is pumped into your abdomen to give surgeons room to work or help see what is going on inside you.

Laparoscopies are preferred by healthcare providers for other reasons as well. Laparoscopies tend to be cheaper and more widely available than major surgeries, as they can be performed in many kinds of medical centers rather than just in hospitals with major surgery centers. Since there is rarely a need to stay overnight in a hospital after a laparoscopy, overall costs to perform a diagnostic laparoscopy are generally much lower for both patients and medical centers.  

Laparoscopy is often performed under full anesthesia. In these cases, you may be at a similar risk to the complications of going under anesthesia as if you had open surgery, though the duration of your procedure factors into this. Some laparoscopic procedures can be performed under a form of local anesthetic, though, which carries far less risk than being put all the way out. 

Preparing for and Healing from a Laparoscopy

The preparation for a diagnostic laparoscopy is very similar to what you need to do to prepare for most medical procedures. You will work with your doctor ahead of time to manage any medications that could cause complications with the anesthesia. You will also need to refrain from eating or drinking anything for several hours before the procedure. Depending on the reason for your laparoscopy, there may be other specific instructions your surgeon will provide to make sure you are ready for surgery. 

Though you will need to be careful as you heal, you will be able to get back to normal activities much sooner than you would after traditional surgery. Typically, this minimally invasive surgery is done as an outpatient procedure rather than keeping you for a longer hospital stay, as would often be necessary for more traditional surgery. 

What Conditions can be Treated with Laparoscopy?

Laparoscopic surgery is used to diagnose and treat a wide range of medical conditions. Hernia repair, gallbladder surgery, appendicitis, and even infertility issues can be treated laparoscopically. Chances are, unless something has gone catastrophically wrong with one of our organs, many surgeries can be done more safely through laparoscopy than with traditional open surgery.

Women often have more reasons to possibly be treated laparoscopically than men do, as the field of gynecology makes extensive use of laparoscopic procedures. Some conditions such as endometriosis can only be positively confirmed during a laparoscopy. Fibroids, ovarian cysts, issues with the fallopian tubes, and even a partial or full hysterectomy can be performed by a gynecologist without the need of open surgery. 

Though often used at the beginning of your journey with a particular disease, laparoscopy can be an effective tool to evaluate recovery as well. Just as your doctor might need to visually inspect a tumor or growth to see if it presents a risk to your health, it may be also used to look at how well your body is recovering from major surgery. It can also be used to verify whether cancer treatments have been effective or whether more aggressive treatments need to be attempted.

Is Diagnostic Laparoscopy Safe?

All forms of surgery carry some risk, but diagnostic laparoscopy is considered to have fewer risks than traditional surgery. Since most laparoscopies are performed with anesthesia, the complications associated with being put under apply. Beyond direct complications from surgery itself, there is a chance of infection forming topically or deeper in the tissues involved in your surgery. 

Though it is considered safer than open surgery, laparoscopy is still riskier than other forms of diagnostic medicine. Imaging such as X-rays, CT scans, and imaging with an MRI machine are all safer, and should be used if at all possible. For some gynecological conditions like endometriosis, diagnostic imaging does not work, and laparoscopy may be necessary.

What are the Risks of Laparoscopy?

Whenever you put the body through physical trauma, even in an attempt to treat a medical condition, there is the chance something could go wrong. While it can be used to help, open surgery carries a risk of tissue damage, infection, and other complications.

Many of the symptoms of an infection forming after diagnostic laparoscopy are similar to those associated with other infections, though some effects may differ based on the location and severity of the infection. A few of the symptoms to be on the lookout for include the following:

  • abdominal pain that becomes more intense over time
  • fevers or chills
  • inability to urinate
  • redness, swelling, bleeding, or drainage at the incision sites
  • persistent cough
  • shortness of breath
  • continuous nausea or vomiting
  • lightheadedness

Some of the more serious risks associated with laparoscopic procedures may not be related to infections at all. These can be related to something that’s wrong during the surgery itself, or your body not healing properly afterward. A few of these more serious risks include:

  • your abdominal wall becoming inflamed
  • complications from or reactions to general anesthesia
  • blood clots 

Adhesions are one of the more troublesome concerns with laparoscopy. Though less traumatic for the body than full open surgery, the incisions made during a laparoscopy can still leave you vulnerable to adhesions. These areas of connection between your organs and tissues in your abdominal cavity can cause pain and problems if left untreated, and can be a particular concern if you have had multiple laparoscopies to treat the same or different conditions. 

Even minor surgery can be a major life event. Here at Cary Gastroenterology we perform many different minimally invasive procedures. With our focus on your gastrointestinal tract, we routinely perform many different forms of endoscopy of both the lower and upper GI tract. 

Getting a look inside you, whether it is a straightforward colonoscopy or a more involved procedure such as laparoscopy, is important for properly diagnosing many different kinds of abdominal conditions. If you have been experiencing unexplained pain in your abdomen, request an appointment at Cary Gastroenterology today. We are committed to helping you get the information and treatment you need to make the best decisions about your health.