Catherine Spader, RN

What is laparoscopy?

Laparoscopy is a surgical technique that allows your surgeon to diagnose and treat many diseases and conditions of the chest, abdomen and pelvis with a laparoscope. A laparoscope is a long, thin camera that transmits pictures of the inside of your body to a video screen viewed by the surgeon. It is inserted through a small incision, typically ½ to 1 cm long. Special surgical tools are inserted through the laparoscope or through other small incisions.

Laparoscopy, also known as laparoscopic surgery, is a type of minimally invasive surgery. This involves making small incisions instead of the large one needed for open surgery. In laparoscopy, surgical tools are threaded through the smaller incisions and around tissues instead of cutting through them. This generally results in a quicker recovery and less pain than open surgery.

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Laparoscopy still has risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your treatment choices before having a laparoscopy.

Other surgical procedures that may be performed

Your surgeon may perform a biopsy during laparoscopy. A biopsy is the removal of a sample of cells or tissue to test for cancer and other diseases.

You may need open surgery if your surgeon finds an extensive or unexpected problem during laparoscopic surgery. Open surgery is performed by making a longer incision that allows your surgeon to directly view and access the surgical area.

Why is laparoscopy performed? 

Your surgeon may recommend laparoscopy to treat diseases and conditions of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis. Your surgeon may only consider a laparoscopy for you if other treatment options that involve less risk of complications have been ineffective. Ask your surgeon about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on a laparoscopy.

Your surgeon may recommend a laparoscopy to treat:

Who performs laparoscopy?

The following specialists perform laparoscopy:

  • General surgeons and pediatric surgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions. Pediatric surgeons further specialize in surgery for infants, children and adolescents.

  • Obstetrician-gynecologists specialize in women’s health and pregnancy.

  • Colon and rectal surgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of diseases of the small intestine, colon, rectum, and anus, as well as intestine-related conditions of the liver, urinary tract, and female reproductive system. Colon and rectal surgeons are sometimes called proctologists.

  • Urologists and pediatric urologists specialize in diseases and conditions of the urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. Pediatric urologists further specialize in treating infants, children and adolescents.

  • Female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgeons are urologists or gynecologists who have completed specialized training in women’s pelvic floor disorders.

How is laparoscopy performed?

Your laparoscopy will be performed in a hospital or outpatient setting. Your surgeon will insert the laparoscope through a small incision (cut). More than one incision may be needed to see the surgical area and insert additional instruments.

Laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgery because only one or few small incisions are made instead of a large incision made in a traditional open surgery. Minimally invasive techniques are sometimes combined with open procedures. 

Your surgeon may decide after beginning a minimally invasive technique that you require an open surgery to safely and most effectively complete your surgery. 

Types of anesthesia that may be used

Laparoscopy is generally completed using general anesthesia. General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put you in a deep sleep. You are unaware of the procedure and will not feel any pain.

What to expect the day of your laparoscopy

The day of your surgery, you can generally expect the following:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent form.

  • Remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member. Your care team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.

  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will have. 

  • A surgical team member will start an IV. 

  • The anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will start your anesthesia.

  • A tube will be placed in your windpipe to protect and control breathing during general anesthesia. You will not feel or remember this or the surgery as they happen.

  • A urinary catheter may be inserted after you are asleep.

  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout the procedure and during your recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and all vital signs are stable.

What are the risks and potential complications of a laparoscopy?  

As with all surgeries, a laparoscopy involves risks and possible complications. Complications may become serious and life threatening in some cases. Complications can develop during surgery or recovery.

General risks of surgery

The general risks of surgery include:

  • Anesthesia reaction, such as an allergic reaction and problems with breathing 

  • Bleeding or hemorrhage (heavy bleeding), which can lead to shock

  • Blood clot, such as a deep vein thrombosis that develops in the leg or pelvis

  • Infection 

Potential complications of laparoscopy

Complications of a laparoscopy vary depending on the procedure. General complications include: 

  • Blood vessel damage

  • Development of a hernia (bulge) at the incision site

  • Nerve damage

  • Organ damage 

Reducing your risk of complications</