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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, an incision is made in the abdomen or the side. The doctor treats the kidneys through this incision.

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

Preparing for Surgery

Prepare for the surgery as you’ve been told. In addition:

  • Tell your doctor about all medications you take. This includes herbs and other supplements. It also includes any blood thinners, such as Coumadin, Plavix, or daily aspirin. You may need to stop taking some or all of them before surgery.

  • 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 medications, take them with a small sip of water.)

The Day of Surgery

The surgery takes about 2-3 hours. You will stay in the hospital for 3-5 nights.

Before the surgery begins:

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

  • To keep you free of pain during the surgery, you’re given general anesthesia. This medication puts you in a state like 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 the abdomen or the side.

  • Tissues are moved aside to expose the kidneys. Blood vessels leading to the 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. And damaged tissue is removed. The injuries are then closed with stitches (sutures) or other sealing agents.

  • If repair cannot save the 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 and nauseated. 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 medication to manage pain. Let your providers know if your pain is not controlled.

  • 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 taught coughing and breathing techniques to 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 doctor 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 medications as directed.

  • Care for your incision and drain as instructed.

  • Follow your doctor’s guidelines for showering. Avoid swimming, bathing, using a hot tub, and other activities that cause the incision to be covered with water until the doctor says it’s okay.

  • Avoid heavy lifting and strenuous activities as directed.

  • Avoid driving until your doctor says it’s okay. Do not drive if you’re taking medications that make you drowsy or sleepy.

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

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

  • Drink plenty of water. This helps prevent urine odor and dehydration. And 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 the Doctor If You Have Any of the Following:

  • Chest pain or trouble breathing (call 911) 

  • Fever of 100.4°F or higher 

  • Symptoms of infection at an incision site, such as increased redness or swelling, warmth, worsening pain, or foul-smelling drainage

  • Pain that cannot be controlled with medications 

  • Nausea or vomiting that won’t go away 

  • No urination within 8 hours

  • No bowel movement within 2 days

  • Pain or swelling in the legs

Follow-Up

You’ll have follow-up visits so your doctor 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 doctor. 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: Louise Akin, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith, RN, MSN, FNP, CCRC
Last Review Date: 5/16/2012
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