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What is Electrocautery?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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 anon331013 — On Apr 20, 2013

How much is the TDS of water for Electrocautery set usages?

By anon302914 — On Nov 12, 2012

Do you know exactly when Electrocautery started? I'm doing a project on cancers and one of the new treatments is Electrocautery, so I'm researching all about it.

By anon217580 — On Sep 26, 2011

I am looking for electrocautery equipment for dental use. Please suggest which vendors makes them and if they are available in India. I am also looking for someone who can help make them in India.

By Planch — On Jul 27, 2010

One specific kind of electrocautery is called bipolar electrocautery.

A bipolar electrocautery machine works by combining both of the electrodes -- the active and the return -- are incorporated into the same instrument.

This causes the current to pass only between the two tips of the instrument, which is often shaped like forceps.

This type of electrocautery is particularly useful in surgeries where is is important to limit the tissue damage as much as possible.

Because of the construction of the machine, the current has a much more localized impact on the surrounding tissue.

However, critics state that the bipolar electrocautery machine is much more difficult to use, and requires repeated cleaning as charred cells build up on the apparatus.

By LittleMan — On Jul 27, 2010

One of the by-words in the electrocautery world is a "bovie".

This refers to the first electrosurgery apparatus, created by Dr. William Bovie.

Bovie electrocautery units are still commonly used today for blood coagulation, and is often simply called a "bovie" by surgeons.

By FirstViolin — On Jul 27, 2010

@anon91839 -- The voltage and duration of the electrocautery can depend on the type of procedure, as well as the electrocautery unit used.

Even the small ones, like a cautery pen, will get up to 2300 degrees Fahrenheit.

As far as duration, I would suppose that would depend on the type and thickness of tissue that was being cauterized.

By anon91839 — On Jun 24, 2010

what temperatures and durations are used?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

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

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