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What Is an Enterotomy?

By J. Beam
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An enterotomy is the medical term for an incision within the intestine. The incision may be intentionally made by a surgeon to perform repair or removal of part of the intestines or it may be an unintentional complication of abdominal surgery performed for reasons not involving the intestines. Studies indicate that previous abdominal surgery may increase the chance of inadvertent enterotomy during subsequent abdominal surgery and that this complication may be underreported.

The term can literally refer to any incision in any part of the intestine. The intestines are comprised of two parts: the small and large intestine. The small intestine is the longer length of intestine that begins directly beneath the stomach and the large intestine is the shorter length ending at the rectum. An incision into any part of the intestine would be called an enterotomy.

When performed as part of a surgical procedure to the intestines, the term for the surgical procedure would supersede the medical term for the incision. Examples could include removal of part of the small bowel, a procedure called small bowel resection or removal of the colon, a procedure called colectomy. The term enterotomy may also be used in conjunction with the affected anatomy, such as a small bowel enterotomy or an incision made to the small bowel portion of the intestine.

Whether surgically necessary or inadvertent, enterotomy repair can be performed with laparascopic surgery, the least invasive method of abdominal surgery. Common abdominal surgeries include appendectomy, exploratory laparotomy, hysterectomy and gall bladder removal. Less common abdominal surgeries include treatments for colon cancer and Crohn’s disease and hernia repair.

One of the reasons why an inadvertent enterotomy may occur during abdominal surgery may be because of the relatively massive size of the intestine and the limited field of vision within the abdominal cavity. The small and large intestines together are comprised of a series of tube-like organs measuring about 20 – 25 feet (6.09 – 7.62 meters) in length for the average adult. They are wound closely together and located between the stomach and rectum. The remaining abdominal organs, including the pancreas, liver, and kidneys are also contained within the abdominal cavity, perhaps limiting full vision of all parts during surgical procedures.

Inadvertent enterotomy is not the only complication risk associated with abdominal surgery. Bleeding, hernia, and infection are other potential complications that arise from abdominal surgeries. Regardless of the need for abdominal surgery, a surgeon should discuss all risks associated with a procedure as well as any concerns regarding pre- and post-operative care.

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Discussion Comments
By burcidi — On Jun 01, 2013

My dog had an enterotomy this week. He swallowed something he was not supposed to and started crying a lot and vomiting. The vet took an x-ray, found a large object in his intestine. He had to be cut up to remove it, it turned out to be a piece of plastic.

I'm going to be watching him very closely from now on. The vet said that if the enterotomy hadn't been done right away, my dog's intestines would have been badly damaged from the plastic moving around.

By burcinc — On May 31, 2013

@feruze-- My surgeon made an inadvertent enterotomy during my hernia repair surgery. He wasn't able to repair it right away, so he put staples in and did another surgery for repair four days later. I was told about the enterotomy as soon as I woke up.

I was kind of upset at first, but these things happen. Surgery in the abdominal cavity is not at all easy like the article said and it's not like the incision was made on purpose.

I was taken care of very well after surgery and was put on antibiotics. Everything healed up quickly and my original surgery was also a success so I was happy.

By bear78 — On May 30, 2013

When an inadvertent enterotomy occurs, do surgeons fix it right away? Are they required to tell the patient about it afterward?

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