What Is an Enterotomy?

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.
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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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