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Open Kidney Exploration

Open kidney exploration is a type of surgery. It is most often done to treat injuries to the kidneys. In rare cases, it may be done to help find the cause of a problem in the kidneys. During the surgery, a cut (incision) is made in your belly (abdomen) or side. The provider treats your kidneys through this incision.

Front view of torso showing kidneys, ureters, bladder, and major blood vessels. Adrenal glands are on top of kidneys.

Getting ready for surgery

Follow any instructions from your healthcare provider.

Tell your provider about any medicines you are taking. You may need to stop taking all or some of these before the test. This includes:

  • All prescription medicines

  • Blood-thinning medicines (anticoagulants)

  • Over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin or ibuprofen

  • Street drugs

  • Herbs, vitamins, and other supplements

Do not eat or drink during the 8 hours before your surgery. This includes coffee, water, gum, and mints. (If you have been instructed to take medicines, take them with a small sip of water.)

The day of surgery

The surgery takes a few hours. You will stay in the hospital for several nights.

Before the surgery begins:

  • An IV line is placed in a vein in your arm or hand. This supplies fluids and medicines (such as antibiotics).

  • You may be given medicine to prevent blood clots.

  • To keep you free of pain during the surgery, you’re given general anesthesia. This medication puts you in a state like a deep sleep through the surgery. A tube may be placed in your throat to help you breathe.

During the surgery:

  • An incision is made in your abdomen or side.

  • Tissues are moved aside to expose your kidneys. Blood vessels leading to your kidneys may be clamped. This helps control bleeding.

  • Any injuries found are repaired as much as possible. First, steps are taken to stop any bleeding. The injuries are cleaned. Any damaged tissue is removed. The injuries are then closed with stitches (sutures) or other sealing agents.

  • If repair cannot save your kidney, part or all of it may be removed.

  • When the surgery is complete, the skin incision is closed with stitches or staples.

  • A small tube (drain) may be placed near the incision. This drains fluid that can build up after the surgery.

Recovering in the hospital

After the surgery, you will be taken to a recovery room. Here, you’ll wake up from the anesthesia. You may feel sleepy. You may have an upset stomach (nausea). If a breathing tube was used, your throat may be sore at first. When you are ready, you will be taken to your hospital room. While in the hospital:

  • You will be given medicines to manage your pain. Let your provider know if your pain is not going away.

  • You’ll first receive IV fluids. In a day or so, you’ll start on a liquid diet. You’ll then slowly return to a normal diet.

  • You’ll be shown ways to cough and breathe that can keep your lungs clear and prevent pneumonia.

Recovering at home

After your hospital stay, you will be released to an adult family member or friend. Have someone stay with you for the next few days, to help care for you. Recovery time varies for each person. Your provider will tell you when you can return to your normal routine. Until then, follow the instructions you have been given. Make sure to:

  • Take all medicines as directed

  • Care for your incision and drain as instructed

  • Follow your provider’s guidelines for showering. Avoid swimming, bathing, using a hot tub, and other activities that cover the incision with water until your provider says it’s OK.

  • Avoid heavy lifting and strenuous activities as directed

  • Avoid driving until your provider says it’s OK. Do not drive if you’re taking medicines that make you drowsy or sleepy.

  • Walk a few times a day. Slowly increase your pace and distance, as you feel able.

  • Avoid straining to pass stool. If needed, take stool softeners as directed by your provider.

  • Drink plenty of water. This helps prevent urine odor and dehydration.

  • Follow any other diet instructions you’re given. For instance, you may be told to limit the amount of salty foods you eat. You may also need to avoid drinking alcohol.


Call your provider if you have any of the following:

  • Chest pain or trouble breathing (call 911 or your local emergency number) 

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher 

  • Symptoms of infection at an incision site. This includes increased redness or swelling (inflammation), warmth, more pain, or bad-smelling drainage.

  • Pain that can't be controlled with medicines

  • Nausea or vomiting that won’t go away 

  • No urination within 8 hours

  • No bowel movement within 2 days

  • Pain or swelling in your legs


You’ll have follow-up visits so your provider can check how well you’re healing. If your drain, stitches, or staples need to be removed, this will likely be done in 7 days. Going forward, you may need regular visits with your provider. During these visits, routine tests may be done to check how well your kidneys are working.

Risks and possible complications include:

  • Bleeding (may require a blood transfusion)

  • Infection

  • Blood clots

  • Pneumonia and other lung problems

  • Hernia at the incision site

  • Damage to nearby nerves, blood vessels, soft tissues, or organs

  • Damage to or loss of the affected kidney

  • Kidney or other organ failure

  • Heart attack or stroke

  • Risks of anesthesia (the anesthesiologist will discuss these with you)

Online Medical Reviewer: Hanrahan, John, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Moloney Johns, Amanda, PA-C, MPAS, BBA
Last Review Date: 6/9/2015
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