Laparoscopy and Laparoscopic Surgery

Last updated by Peer reviewed by Dr Rachel Hudson, MRCGP
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Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure which uses a special surgical instrument called a laparoscope to look inside the body or to perform certain operations.

When compared with traditional surgery, laparoscopic surgery usually has:

  • Less pain following the procedure.
  • Lower risk of complications.
  • A shorter hospital stay and a quicker recovery.
  • A much smaller scar.

Note: the information below is a general guide only. The arrangements, and the way tests are performed, may vary between different hospitals. Always follow the instructions given by your doctor or local hospital.

Laparoscopy is a procedure to look inside your tummy (abdomen) by using a laparoscope. A laparoscope is like a thin telescope with a light source. It is used to light up and magnify the structures inside the abdomen. A laparoscope is passed into the abdomen through a small cut in the skin.

As well as simply looking inside (laparoscopy), a doctor can use fine instruments to operate (laparoscopic surgery). These are passed into the tummy (abdomen) through another small cut in the skin. These instruments are used to cut or trim tissues, perform biopsies, grasp organs, etc, inside the abdomen. This laparoscopic surgery is sometimes called 'keyhole surgery' or 'minimally invasive surgery'.

Laparoscopic surgery

Laparoscopic surgery

By Samuel Bendet, US Air Force, via Wikimedia Commons

Why is laparoscopic surgery done?

A laparoscopy may be done to find the cause of symptoms such as abdominal pain, pelvic pain or swelling of the abdomen or pelvic region. A laparoscopy enables a doctor to see clearly inside your abdomen. This enables certain conditions to be diagnosed eg, endometriosis.

Laparoscopic surgery can be used for various procedures which include:

Laparoscopy and laparoscopic surgery are usually done whilst you are asleep under general anaesthesia. The skin over the tummy is cleaned.

In a laparoscopy, the surgeon makes a small cut about 0.5-2 cm long near to the belly button. Some gas is injected through the cut to inflate the abdomen slightly. This makes it easier to see the internal organs with the laparoscope which is gently pushed through the incision into the abdominal cavity. The operator then looks down the laparoscope, or looks at pictures on a TV monitor connected to the laparoscope.

If you have a surgical procedure, one or more separate small incisions may be made in the abdominal skin. These allow thin instruments to be pushed into the abdominal cavity. The surgeon can see the ends of these instruments with the laparoscope and so can perform procedures.

A more recent technique called single-port laparoscopy involves operating through the same incision through which the laparoscope was passed and does not require additional cuts to the abdomen.

When the surgeon has finished, the laparoscope and other instruments are removed. The incisions are stitched and dressings are applied. The dressings will cover the incisions and should be kept on until the incisions have healed.

As you will usually be under a general anaesthetic, your hospital should give you instructions about not eating or drinking before the operation.

Depending on the reason for your operation or what medication you normally take, there may be other, more specific instructions. Your doctor will give you this information if necessary.

The length of time to recover can vary. It depends on why the procedure was done and what operations were performed. A simple investigation to 'look around' will leave you a little uncomfortable for a few days.

You may need a day or up to a week to feel completely well after the general anaesthetic. You may take longer to feel well if you were under anaesthetic for a long time. Before you leave the hospital you will be given advice about recovering after anaesthesia. This should include information about driving.

You are able to eat and drink as normal after laparoscopy. You may have some pain in your shoulder tip. This is caused by the gas that was pumped inside. It can irritate your diaphragm which has the same nerve supply as the shoulder tip and makes it feel as though your shoulder hurts. This should soon wear off.

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There may be some minor bleeding or bruising around the skin incisions. In most cases there are no complications. Before the operation your surgeon will discuss the possible complications with you so you understand the risks involved.

Possible complications of laparoscopy include:

  • Accidental damage to structures inside your tummy (abdomen), such as the intestines or blood vessels. This is rare but if it occurs, an emergency traditional (open) operation may be needed.
  • As with any operation, there is a small risk of complications of anaesthesia.
  • Occasionally the incisions become infected which may require a course of antibiotics.

If you have laparoscopic surgery (rather than only a laparoscopy), the risk of complications may increase depending on what operation is performed. Before leaving hospital you will be given information about what symptoms should prompt you to seek medical advice (in case they are a complication of the surgery) and who to contact.

The key advantages of laparoscopic surgery are the quicker recovery times and reduced need for pain relief, compared to traditional (open) surgery.

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Further reading and references

  • Rockall TA, Demartines N; Laparoscopy in the era of enhanced recovery. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2014 Feb28(1):133-42. doi: 10.1016/j.bpg.2013.11.001. Epub 2013 Dec 1.

  • Rao PP, Rao PP, Bhagwat S; Single-incision laparoscopic surgery - current status and controversies. J Minim Access Surg. 2011 Jan7(1):6-16. doi: 10.4103/0972-9941.72360.