Electrocautery is a surgical technique that involves introducing high frequency current to a specific area of the body in order to remove unwanted tissue, seal off blood vessels, or to create a surgical incision. Many surgeons use this instruments, under the belief that this technique is cleaner, safer, and more efficient than many of the alternatives. Anyone who has watched a medical drama has probably seen electrocautery in action.
The instrument used to perform these procedures is also known as an electrocautery. It uses a very high frequency, usually upwards of 100 kHz, to ensure that the patient's nerves and muscles are not stimulated. Lower frequencies could cause twitching and cramps, which would be a serious problem. Depending on the voltage used, the tool can have varying effects on the patient's body.
Electrocautery can be used to cut through soft tissue to access a surgical site, and it can also be used to seal off bleeding blood vessels during surgery to keep the site clean and reduce blood loss. It is also used in ablation, or removal of things like warts, suspected skin cancers, and so forth.
People have been using cauterization in medical treatment for thousands of years, although early forms were crude; wounds would be sealed with brands heated in the fire, for example. One of the advantages of cauterization is that it gets wound sites clean quickly, killing off many of the bacteria that might try to move in. Recovery from surgeries where electrocautery was used can also be more rapid than recovery from conventional surgeries, and the risk of infection can be reduced.
However, there are some cautions involved when using this technique. It is important that surgeons use the equipment properly and keep it in good working order to ensure that only the area of interest is coming into contact with heat or electrical current. If electrocautery is not performed with safe equipment, the patient's body could potentially be burned elsewhere.
Sometimes, surgeons will discuss the risks and benefits of electrocautery with patients before starting a procedure. Because the procedure is becoming the norm in surgery, however, such conversations are increasingly rare. Chemical cautery, which uses caustic chemicals, may also be discussed, along with laser cautery, which utilizes a precision laser to cauterize surgical sites.