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Laparoscopy is a type of surgical procedure that allows a surgeon to access the inside of the abdomen (tummy) and pelvis without having to make large incisions in the skin.
It is also known as keyhole surgery or minimally invasive surgery.
Large incisions can be avoided during laparoscopy because the surgeon uses an instrument called a laparoscope. This is a small tube that has a light source and a camera, which relays images of the inside of the abdomen or pelvis to a television monitor.
The advantages of this technique over traditional "open" surgery include:
Laparoscopy is carried out under general anaesthetic, so you will not feel any pain during the procedure.
During laparoscopy, the surgeon makes one or more small incisions in the abdomen. These allow the surgeon to insert the laparoscope, small surgical tools and a tube used to pump gas into the abdomen so it is easier for the surgeon to look around and operate.
After the procedure, the gas is let out of your abdomen, the incisions are closed using stitches and a dressing applied.
You can often go home on the same day you have laparoscopy, although sometimes you may need to stay overnight in hospital.
Read more about how laparoscopy is performed.
Laparoscopy can be used to help diagnose a wide range of conditions that develop inside the abdomen or pelvis. It can also be used to carry out surgical procedures, such as removing a damaged or diseased organ, or removing a tissue sample for further testing (biopsy).
Laparoscopy is most commonly used in gynaecology (the study and treatment of conditions that affect the female reproductive system), gastroenterology (the study and treatment of conditions that affect the digestive system) and urology (the study and treatment of conditions that affect the urinary system)
Read more about when laparoscopy is used.
Laparoscopic surgery is very common and generally regarded as very safe. Serious complications are rare, occurring in an estimated 1 in 1,000 cases.
Possible complications that can develop include:
Read more about the possible complications of laparoscopy.
Laparoscopy may be used to diagnose or treat many different conditions.
During laparoscopy small surgical instruments and devices can be inserted through seperate small incisons to help perform surgical procedures.
It is often possible to diagnose a condition using non-invasive methods, such as an ultrasound scan, a computerised tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. However, sometimes the only way to confirm a diagnosis is to directly study the affected part of the body using a laparoscope.
Laparoscopies are now widely used to diagnose many different conditions and investigate certain symptoms. For example, they may be used for:
Laparoscopy can also be used to diagnose certain types of cancers](/condition/cancer). In such cases, the laparoscope is used to obtain a sample of suspected cancerous tissue so that it can be sent to a laboratory for testing. This is known as a [biopsy.
Cancers that can be diagnosed using laparoscopy include:
Laparoscopic surgery can be used to treat a number of different conditions, including:
Laparoscopy is performed under general anaesthetic, so you will be unconscious throughout the procedure and have no memory of it. You can often go home on the same day.
Depending on the type of laparoscopic procedure being performed, you will usually be asked not to eat or drink anything for 6-12 hours beforehand.
If you are taking blood-thinning medication (anticoagulants), such as aspirin or warfarin, you may be asked to stop taking it a number of days beforehand. This is to prevent excessive bleeding during the operation.
If you smoke, you may be advised to stop during the lead-up to the operation. This is because smoking can delay healing after surgery and increase the risk of complications such as infection.
Most people can leave hospital either on the day of the procedure or the following day. Before the procedure you will need to arrange for someone to drive you home because you will be advised not to drive for at least 24 hours afterwards.
During laparoscopy, the surgeon will make a small cut (incision) of around 1–1.5cm (0.4–0.6 inches), which is usually placed near your belly button.
A tube is inserted through the incision and carbon dioxide gas is pumped through the tube to inflate your tummy (abdomen). Inflating your abdomen allows the surgeon to see your organs more clearly, and gives them more room to work. A laparoscope is then inserted through this tube. The laparoscope will relay images to a television monitor in the operating theatre, giving the surgeon a clear view of the whole area.
If the laparoscopy is used to carry out a surgical treatment, such as removing your appendix, further incisions will be made in your abdomen. Small, surgical instruments can be inserted through these incisions, and the surgeon can guide them to the right place using the view from the laparoscope. Once in place, the instruments can be used to carry out the required treatment.
After the procedure, the carbon dioxide is let out of your abdomen, the incisions are closed using stitches or clips and a dressing is applied.
Laparoscopy used to diagnose a condition usually takes 30–60 minutes to perform. It will take longer if the surgeon is treating a condition, depending on the type of surgery being carried out.
After laparoscopy, you may feel groggy and disorientated as you recover from the effects of the anaesthetic. Some people feel sick or vomit. These are common side effects of the anaesthetic and should pass quickly.
Before you leave hospital, you will be told how to keep your wounds clean and when to return for a follow-up appointment or to have your stitches removed (although dissolvable stitches are now often used).
For a few days after the procedure, you are likely to feel some pain and discomfort where the incisions were made and you may also have a sore throat if a breathing tube was placed down your throat during the procedure. You will be given painkilling medication to help relieve the pain.
Some of the gas used to inflate your abdomen can remain inside your abdomen after the procedure, which can cause:
These symptoms are nothing to worry about and should pass after a day or so once your body has absorbed the remaining gas.
Over the following days or weeks, it is likely you will feel more tired than usual, as your body is using a lot of energy to heal itself. Taking regular naps may help.
The time it takes to recover from laparoscopy is different for everybody. It depends on things such as why the procedure was carried out (whether it was used to diagnose or treat a condition), your general health and whether any complications develop.
If you have had laparoscopy to diagnose a condition, you will usually be able to resume your normal activities within five days.
The recovery period after laparoscopy to treat a condition depends on the type of treatment. After minor surgery, such as appendix removal, you may be able to resume normal activities within two weeks. Following major surgery, such as removal of your ovaries or kidney due to cancer, the recovery time may be as long as 12 weeks.
Your surgical team can give you more information about when you will be able to resume normal activities.
It is usually recommended that you have someone stay with you for the first 24 hours after your surgery. This is in case you experience any symptoms that suggest there could be a problem, such as:
If you experience any of these symptoms during your recovery, you should contact the hospital where the procedure was carried out or your doctor for advice.
Laparoscopy is a commonly performed procedure and serious complications are rare.
Minor complications occur in an estimated one or two cases in every 100 after laparoscopy. They include:
Serious complications after laparoscopy are rare, occurring in an estimated 1 in every 1,000 cases. These include:
Further surgery is often required to treat many of these more serious complications.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.