What is a Bovie Cautery?

V. Cassiopia

Bovie cautery is a surgical procedure performed with the use of a “bovie," a medical device that cuts and seals, or cauterizes, tissues and blood vessels by way of a direct electrical current. A scapel is not used. Touching body tissues with heated prongs on the end of the bovie transfers heat to the tissues, destroying those in immediate contact and cauterizing adjacent tissues. For this reason, bovie cautery is also called “thermocautery” or “electrocautery.”

A bovie cautery is a type of surgical procedure.
A bovie cautery is a type of surgical procedure.

Bovie cautery works by directly applying an electrically heated prong to tissue that needs to be cauterized, so it is most accurately characterized as electrocautery, rather than electrosurgery. A modern electrosurgical unit (ESU) can have added instruments and settings that allow electrocautery functions, such as a surgical blade, or “bovie knife,” that allows surgeons to rapidly cauterize and clear operative fields when performing major surgeries of the spine, thorax, and abdomen.

Freezing warts with liquid nitrogen -- an alternative to bovie cautery for wart treatment -- often causes blisters to form where the treatment was performed.
Freezing warts with liquid nitrogen -- an alternative to bovie cautery for wart treatment -- often causes blisters to form where the treatment was performed.

Portable bovie cautery units are widely used today in emergency rooms and in outpatient settings such as clinics and doctor’s offices where medical procedures can also be performed. These bovie units are increasingly used for outpatient surgery in many medical specialties, including plastic surgery, dermatology, gynecology, urology, dentistry, and otolaryngology. A suction bovie is widely used to perform adenoidectomies, because it has a hollow central stem that is used to suck blood from the throat area during surgery, allowing better vision of the area and also helping to improve patient comfort.

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Portable bovies are battery-powered and shaped like a pen; some newer shapes resemble a pencil and use microtips. These portable units can achieve a temperature of 2,200°F (1,204°C) without requiring high-frequency currents or generators. Their length generally varies from around 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) to 8 inches (20.3 cm), and they can have disposable or replaceable wire loop tips varying from 3/16-inch (5 mm) to microtip sizes of 2/5-inch (0.1 cm) to about 1/16-inch (0.2 cm).

Bovie cautery is used to cut and coagulate animal and human tissue. It is widely used as a cauterizing agent in veterinary surgery. This form of cautery, along with lasers, is now largely used instead of treatment by freezing, or cryotherapy, to treat tumors and warts in humans. Traditional chemocautery, using cauterizing agents such as silver nitrate, tends to be favored by veterinarians for animal treatment.

Extensive safety procedures are taken in operating rooms when using the bovie apparatus, because severe burns can result during the use of high-frequency alternating current without adequate protection. Fire, shock, and smoke inhalation are other hazards. Outpatient cautery, however, presents few of these hazards because it uses self-contained, battery-operated units and less extensive surgical areas. It has also been noted in clinical literature that the use of bovie cautery has reduced operative time, bleeding, and infection, as well as reducing patient pain.

Bovie cautery is often used to treat warts.
Bovie cautery is often used to treat warts.

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Discussion Comments

This instrument is used to cut and cauterize immediately. We have come a long way since the time of bloodletting.

Bloodletting is one of the oldest forms of medicine performed.

In the fifth century BC having someone bleed was thought to let out overabundances in the blood that should be let out.

Later and into the nineteenth century the practice would be recommended by surgeons and often carried out by barbers. The modern day red and white barber pole is a traditional reminder of the days when a barber would draw blood. Bloodletting carried on into the twentieth century.

Although bloodletting isn't seen in modern medicine, leeches still have a place in the hospital. They are best used for assisting with certain types of blood circulation issues.

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