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Surgical Preparation of the Skin of the Abdomen

written by: kristenrosenthal • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 5/14/2009

One key step in successful abdominal surgery is proper preparation of the skin prior to an incision. Learn what happens during surgical skin prep for abdominal procedures.

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    A major concern when undergoing surgery is the risk of infection after the first incision is made. The best way to avoid a major infection is proper preparation of the incision site before surgery begins. Most often, bacteria that occur naturally on the skin cause surgical site infections. Skin preparation in abdominal surgery removes of as many bacteria as possible through hair removal, mechanical washing, chemical disinfecting, and draping of the skin.

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    Before Surgery Begins

    For many, preparation of skin for abdominal surgery begins before even getting to the hospital. Many surgeons recommend taking a shower with antiseptic soap the night before surgery, as well as the morning of your surgery. If staying in the hospital prior to surgery, nurses will assist the patient with this step.

    During abdominal surgery preparation, the skin may need to be shaved either the night before or the day of the surgery. For shaving, the skin is lathered with liquid soap and shaving is done in the direction of the hair growth. The area is then cleaned with wet sponges and dried gently.

    Additionally, your doctor may begin a course of antibiotics to ward off any infections in case some microbes do enter the incision site.

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    During Surgery

    After arriving in the operating room, the nurses will continue to prepare the skin for the first incision. Once on the operating table, the skin is washed and then swabbed with a solution that kills germs. These solutions may be an iodine solution, a povidone-iodine solution, chlorhexidine, or an alcohol-based disinfectant. Every surgeon and hospital has a preference for a certain chemical disinfectant and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

    Once the skin has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, sterile clothes, called surgical drapes, are used to help keep the area clean. These drapes isolate the surgical area, demarcating it from the rest of the body. In addition, a plastic layer on the drapes provides a barrier against liquids, which can give microbes a direct path to the incision site. More information about proper draping for abdominal surgery can be found here.

    Once skin preparation for abdominal surgery is complete, the surgeon can begin with the first incision and surgery is underway.