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Cauterization is an ancient medical practice
that is still in use currently. It involves creating
burns on the tissue to either close wounds or
stop bleeding, or to remove part of the body.
We’re most likely to think of medical doctors
using this practice long ago to apply hot
metal after amputation. This practice would
close wounds and stop bleeding because
the heat would make the blood clot. A related
term, cautery , can mean placing a brand
on a human, which was a practice that was
also common, for punishment, as decoration
in certain cultures, or to mark humans as
One of the people recognized in the treatment methods using cauterization is the great Andalusian physician, Abu al-Qasim al- Zahrawi, who lived in the 10th century. He developed special tools called cauters for use to stop bleeding of arteries. Interestingly, there is some prohibition in Islamic thought, THOUGH it is not universally applied, that burning the body in this manner may be sinful.
In modern medicine, cauterization is used with great frequency, but the methods have changed. Burning of the tissue is usually accomplished via one of two routes, either by the use of electricity or with chemicals. When electrical pulses are used, this is called electrocauterization, and it’s often used to destroy tissues and make sure that small arteries or veins don’t bleed excessively from removal of tissues.
Certain surgeries like mastectomy employ this method. Another common use of electrocauterization is through cardiac ablation, which can eliminate damaged tissue from the heart to restore a more regular heartbeat.
Chemical cauterization is also used, though there is some concern that the skin might absorb some of the chemicals. However, chemicals like silver nitrate are still widely in use. Small growths like warts or moles may be burned off with certain chemicals. One odd chemical used in this practice is cantharidin, which is produced by blister beetles.
Another method gaining in popularity is the use of lasers to remove tissue. Some doctors may prefer this method to electric cauterization, since removal of tissue can be extremely precise and localized. However improvement in this technology means that electronic and chemical cauterization for sealing or removing tissue are also very effective and safe. A surgical procedure involving bipolar cautery uses electrical current through a medical device, which generally cuts through human tissue and or seals bleeding vessels. Surgeons often combine this type of surgical instrument simultaneously with some type of fluid irrigation that to control the amount of tissue damage occurring during surgery.
A number of medical fields typically use bipolar cautery including dentistry, general surgery and neurosurgery. The main part of the cauterization device is usually comprised of a forceps type instrument, and high frequency electrical current runs from one tip to the other. One tip of the apparatus might be used for cutting and the other for sealing blood vessels. Depending on the model of the instrument, one tip may also be hollow and act as a suction device. The power source of the bipolar cautery device generally has multiple frequency settings, allowing surgeons to cut, cauterize or perform a combination of functions with the same instrument. A fine looped wire might be attached from one tip to the other for removing polyps or larger areas of tissue.
Synchronized saline or medicinal irrigation can provide a cushion between the electrocautery instrument and the tissue, which often becomes dehydrated and shrinks during surgery. The electricity and heat produced by the electrodes burn the tissue, causing it to stick to the device. Surgeons may opt to use irrigation fluid to prevent this process from occurring, depending on the type of procedure performed.
The fluid might also be used as a cutting extension of the instrument. As the electrodes heat the water, the steam produced heats the tissue, cutting away the designated amount at the depth desired. The amount of current used for different procedures varies with body location, type of tissue, and the treatment required.
Compared to other cauterization methods, bipolar cautery allows surgeons to accurately and delicately move and remove diseased areas without causing extensive damage to adjacent or deeper tissue. By immediately searing affected blood vessels, surgeons usually spend less time performing the procedure, and patients generally experience less blood loss and require fewer transfusions.
Bipolar cautery has a wide array of surgical applications. Oral surgeons might use the procedure as a method of removing diseased gum tissue and bipolar cautery in general surgery often effectively treats hemorrhoids. The precision of the instrumentation and technology also allows neurosurgeons to perform delicate procedures involving microscopic blood vessels and nerves.