What is Electrocautery?

Mary McMahon

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.

Electrocautery is common in surgery, as it provides quick cleaning of wound sites and the prevention of bacterial infection.
Electrocautery is common in surgery, as it provides quick cleaning of wound sites and the prevention of bacterial infection.

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 may be used to remove warts.
Electrocautery may be used to remove warts.

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.

Laser cautery utilizes a precision laser to cauterize surgical sites.
Laser cautery utilizes a precision laser to cauterize surgical sites.

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.

Electric scalpels are used in electrocauterization.
Electric scalpels are used in electrocauterization.

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Discussion Comments


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


@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.


what temperatures and durations are used?

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