We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Major Surgery?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
Our promise to you
The Health Board is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At The Health Board, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

There are varying definitions of major surgery, and what constitutes the difference between major and minor surgery. As a general rule, a major procedure is any surgery in which the patient must be put under general anesthesia and given respiratory assistance because he or she cannot breathe independently. In addition, major surgery usually carries some degree of risk to the patient's life, or the potential for severe disability if something goes wrong during the surgery.

Several other features can be used to distinguish major surgery from minor surgery. For example, in a major surgical procedure, significant resection or changes to the anatomy are involved, as in situations where organs are removed, or joints are rebuilt with artificial parts. Any penetration of the body cavity is treated as major surgery, as are extensive orthopedic surgeries on the extremities. Neurosurgery is generally considered major because of the risks to the patient, even though patients are not necessarily under general anesthesia during procedures on the brain.

Some examples of major surgical procedures include knee replacement, cardiovascular surgery, and organ transplants. These procedures carry definite risks from the patient such as infection at the site of the surgery, hemorrhage, or complications from the general anesthetic used. To reduce the potential for complications, major surgery takes place in a sterile operating room where very precise procedures are observed to reduce the risk of contamination and the patient is monitored by an anesthesiologist and a medical team for any signs of distress.

Recovery from major surgery can take several days or weeks. In the first few days, the patient is often hospitalized so that he or she can be monitored, and physical therapy may be offered to get the patient active, which reduces the risk of post surgical complications. After the patient is released, he or she may have to continue taking certain medications, and observing precautions during the healing period.

Preparation for major surgery can also be extensive. The patient usually needs to consult with a surgeon to talk about the procedure, the recovery time, and important aftercare instructions, and he or she will need to undergo a series of tests to confirm fitness for surgery. In emergency surgery where such lengthy preparations may not be an option, surgeons have to use their best judgment to make appropriate decisions for patients who are in critical need of surgery. A patient with abdominal bleeding, for example, may not be able to sign consent forms or to review documentation related to the surgery which would be needed to stop the bleeding.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon986388 — On Jan 25, 2015

While it's true that many brain surgeries aren't under general anesthesia, many are. I had a brain surgery to remove a brain tumor and I was under general anesthesia. While there is no pain to the brain itself, there is much pain to the outside skull and outer tissues. I was in a lot of pain when I woke up and had a morphine drip. I also had a lot of pain when my brain cavity began to fill with fluid where the previous brain tissue had been removed. It caused a lot of pressure and was quite painful.

By anon250869 — On Feb 27, 2012

Illych is correct -- there is no pain in the brain, and it is a widespread practice to keep the patient 'awake' during such a surgery. The doctors may sometimes administer medications that make the patient not able to remember the experience. Every case and practice is different.

By Illych — On May 05, 2011

@softener - Believe it or not, there's no pain in the brain. The patient is usually lightly sedated beforehand and then their scalp is numbed, allowing the surgeon to make the incision.

There are a few reasons why keeping the patient awake might be a good option, the main one being that the patient is able to respond while the operation is being performed. Depending on the area of the brain they're operating, they might ask the patient to try to move occasionally to make sure they're not getting to any areas that might affect motor function. The same can apply for speech. So in many ways it can make major surgery safer.

Also, patients who have not been under general anesthesia tend to heal faster than those who have.

By softener — On May 03, 2011

I'd heard of some patients not being under general anesthesia during procedures on the brain but I found it hard to believe. How is this possible? For what reasons wouldn't they put the patient under general anesthesia anyway? Wouldn't it be painful?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.