Electrocauterization is the process of destroying tissue using heat
conduction from a metal probe heated by electric current. The procedure
is used to stop bleeding from small vessels (larger vessels being
ligated) or for cutting through soft tissue. High frequency alternating
current is used in electrocautery in unipolar or bipolar fashion. It
can be continuous waveform (cuts the tissue) or intermittent type
(coagulates the tissue). In unipolar type, the tissue to be
coagulated/cut is to be contacted with small electrode, while the exit
point of the circuit, as at buttocks is large in surface area to
prevent electrical burns. Heat generated depends on size of contact
area, power setting or frequency of current, duration of application,
waveform. Constant waveform generates more heat than intermittent one.
Frequency used in cutting the tissue is set higher than in coagulation
mode. Bipolar electrocautery establishes circuit between to tips of and
is used like forceps. It has advantage of not disturbing other
electrical rhythms of body (as in heart) and also acts to coagulate
tissue by pressure. Lateral thermal injury is greater in unipolar
devices than bipolar ones.
Electrocauterization is preferable to chemical cauterization because
chemicals can leach into neighbouring tissue and cauterize outside of
the intended boundaries. Concerns have also been raised regarding the
toxicity of surgical smoke produced by electrocautery. This has been
shown to contain chemicals which may cause harm by inhalation by the
patients, surgeon or surgical staff.
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