What is laparoscopy?

Laparoscopy is used to identify and also treat illnesses in the abdomen and the pelvic region. Unlike open surgery (laparotomy), only small incisions need to be made in the skin. That is why laparoscopy is classified as minimally invasive. The instruments needed for the procedure are inserted into the abdomen through the small incisions (cuts) in the skin. Laparoscopy is a variation of endoscopy.

When is laparoscopy used?

Laparoscopy can be used for and treatment. That is why experts make a distinction between diagnostic and therapeutic laparoscopy. The two types can be combined: If the doctor discovers growths in the abdomen, they can be removed right away. The advantage of that is that a second procedure isn't needed.

Diagnostic laparoscopy

Laparoscopy can provide more information if other examinations have not found a cause of ongoing symptoms.

It can be used to

  • take a closer look at organs in the abdomen and pelvis, and check them for pathological changes,
  • take tissue samples to be examined in a laboratory,
  • see how advanced a disease is, such as whether a tumor has already spread, or
  • decide whether open surgery is needed.

Therapeutic laparoscopy

If a has already been made, surgery can often be performed right away. Laparoscopic surgery can be used to remove

  • The gallbladder
  • The appendix to treat appendicitis
  • Abdominal growths
  • Diseased or injured sections of the bowel

Therapeutic laparoscopy is also key in treating gynecological diseases such as endometriosis or fibroids.

Are any preparations needed?

Because laparoscopy is performed under general anesthetic, it’s important to have an empty stomach for the examination or treatment. That means you cannot eat or drink anything for about 6 to 8 hours beforehand. You might also have to take a laxative depending on the area of your body being examined or operated on.

The doctor will check some of your blood readings before starting the procedure. Your tummy will be shaved and disinfected.

What does the procedure involve?

Once the anesthetic has taken effect, the surgeon will make a small incision in the skin very close to the belly button. They pump a harmless gas (usually carbon dioxide) into the abdominal cavity through a special cannula or tube. That inflates the abdomen slightly to make it easier to see and get to the organs.

The surgeon then inserts a tube through the opening in the tummy into the abdomen, and then an instrument with a video camera and lamp (laparoscope) is fed through. The camera is connected to a monitor where the abdominal organs can be seen.

Two more small incisions in the skin are usually needed for surgical procedures. The surgeon then inserts the instruments they need for the procedure through these incisions, too. They might be small forceps, suction devices, or scissors.

The length of the procedure depends on the goal: diagnostic laparoscopy takes about 30 to 60 minutes, while therapeutic laparoscopy takes a little longer. It depends what is being operated on.

Illustration: Therapeutic laparoscopy – example of an appendectomy

What happens afterwards?

Once the laparoscopy has finished, the surgeon removes the instruments and tubes. The gas escapes from the abdomen. The incisions in the skin are sewn up.

You will be monitored for around 1 to 3 hours while the anesthetic wears off. You will be given painkillers to relieve any pain. Depending on how extensive the surgery was, you might have to stay in the hospital for a few days. After minor procedures, people can usually be picked up and taken home right after the anesthetic wears off.

Andreae S, Avelini P, Berg M et al. Lexikon der Krankheiten und Untersuchungen. Stuttgart: Thieme; 2008.

Carus T. Operationsatlas Laparoskopische Chirurgie: Indikationen – Operationsablauf – Varianten – Komplikationen. Berlin: Springer; 2014.

Largiadèr F, Saeger HD, Keel M et al. Checkliste Chirgurgie. Stuttgart: Thieme 2016.

Pschyrembel Online. 2021.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Created on April 21, 2022

Next planned update: 2025


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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