Surgery (from the Greek: χειρουργική cheirourgikē (composed of χείρ, "hand", and ἔργον, "work"), via Latin: chirurgiae, meaning "hand work") is a medical specialty that uses operative manual and instrumental techniques on a patient to investigate or treat a pathological condition such as a disease or injury, to help improve bodily function or appearance or to repair unwanted ruptured areas.
The act of performing surgery may be called a "surgical procedure", "operation", or simply "surgery". In this context, the verb "operate" means to perform surgery. The adjective "surgical" means pertaining to surgery; e.g. surgical instruments or surgical nurse. The patient or subject on which the surgery is performed can be a person or an animal. A surgeon is a person who practices surgery and a surgeon's assistant is a person who practices surgical assistance. A surgical team is made up of surgeon, surgeon's assistant, anesthesia provider, circulating nurse and surgical technologist. Surgery usually spans minutes to hours, but it is typically not an ongoing or periodic type of treatment. The term "surgery" can also refer to the place where surgery is performed, or, in British English, simply the office of a physician, dentist, or veterinarian.
Surgery is a technology consisting of a physical intervention on tissues.
As a general rule, a procedure is considered surgical when it involves cutting of a patient's tissues or closure of a previously sustained wound. Other procedures that do not necessarily fall under this rubric, such as angioplasty or endoscopy, may be considered surgery if they involve "common" surgical procedure or settings, such as use of a sterile environment, anesthesia, antiseptic conditions, typical surgical instruments, and suturing or stapling. All forms of surgery are considered invasive procedures; so-called "noninvasive surgery" usually refers to an excision that does not penetrate the structure being excised (e.g. laser ablation of the cornea) or to a radiosurgical procedure (e.g. irradiation of a tumor).
Surgical procedures are commonly categorized by urgency, type of procedure, body system involved, degree of invasiveness, and special instrumentation.
At a hospital, modern surgery is often performed in an operating theater using surgical instruments, an operating table for the patient, and other equipment. Among United States hospitalizations for nonmaternal and nonneonatal conditions in 2012, more than one-fourth of stays and half of hospital costs involved stays that included operating room (OR) procedures. The environment and procedures used in surgery are governed by the principles of aseptic technique: the strict separation of "sterile" (free of microorganisms) things from "unsterile" or "contaminated" things. All surgical instruments must be sterilized, and an instrument must be replaced or re-sterilized if it becomes contaminated (i.e. handled in an unsterile manner, or allowed to touch an unsterile surface). Operating room staff must wear sterile attire (scrubs, a scrub cap, a sterile surgical gown, sterile latex or non-latex polymer gloves and a surgical mask), and they must scrub hands and arms with an approved disinfectant agent before each procedure.
Prior to surgery, the patient is given a medical examination, receives certain pre-operative tests, and their physical status is rated according to the ASA physical status classification system. If these results are satisfactory, the patient signs a consent form and is given a surgical clearance. If the procedure is expected to result in significant blood loss, an autologous blood donation may be made some weeks prior to surgery. If the surgery involves the digestive system, the patient may be instructed to perform a bowel prep by drinking a solution of polyethylene glycol the night before the procedure. Patients are also instructed to abstain from food or drink (an NPO order after midnight on the night before the procedure), to minimize the effect of stomach contents on pre-operative medications and reduce the risk of aspiration if the patient vomits during or after the procedure.
Some medical systems have a practice of routinely performing chest x-rays before surgery. The premise behind this practice is that the physician might discover some unknown medical condition which would complicate the surgery, and that upon discovering this with the chest x-ray, the physician would adapt the surgery practice accordingly. In fact, medical specialty professional organizations recommend against routine pre-operative chest x-rays for patients who have an unremarkable medical history and presented with a physical exam which did not indicate a chest x-ray. Routine x-ray examination is more likely to result in problems like misdiagnosis, overtreatment, or other negative outcomes than it is to result in a benefit to the patient. Likewise, other tests including complete blood count, prothrombin time, partial thromboplastin time, basic metabolic panel, and urinalysis should not be done unless the results of these tests can help evaluate surgical risk.
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In the pre-operative holding area, the patient changes out of his or her street clothes and is asked to confirm the details of his or her surgery. A set of vital signs are recorded, a peripheral IV line is placed, and pre-operative medications (antibiotics, sedatives, etc.) are given. When the patient enters the operating room, the skin surface to be operated on, called the operating field, is cleaned and prepared by applying an antiseptic such as chlorhexidine gluconate or povidone-iodine to reduce the possibility of infection. If hair is present at the surgical site, it is clipped off prior to prep application. The patient is assisted by an anesthesiologist or resident to make a specific surgical position, then sterile drapes are used to cover the surgical site or at least a wide area surrounding the operating field; the drapes are clipped to a pair of poles near the head of the bed to form an "ether screen", which separates the anesthetist/anesthesiologist's working area (unsterile) from the surgical site (sterile).
Anesthesia is administered to prevent pain from an incision, tissue manipulation and suturing. Based on the procedure, anesthesia may be provided locally or as general anesthesia. Spinal anesthesia may be used when the surgical site is too large or deep for a local block, but general anesthesia may not be desirable. With local and spinal anesthesia, the surgical site is anesthetized, but the patient can remain conscious or minimally sedated. In contrast, general anesthesia renders the patient unconscious and paralyzed during surgery. The patient is intubated and is placed on a mechanical ventilator, and anesthesia is produced by a combination of injected and inhaled agents. Choice of surgical method and anesthetic technique aims to reduce the risk of complications, shorten the time needed for recovery and minimise the surgical stress response.
An incision is made to access the surgical site. Blood vessels may be clamped or cauterized to prevent bleeding, and retractors may be used to expose the site or keep the incision open. The approach to the surgical site may involve several layers of incision and dissection, as in abdominal surgery, where the incision must traverse skin, subcutaneous tissue, three layers of muscle and then the peritoneum. In certain cases, bone may be cut to further access the interior of the body; for example, cutting the skull for brain surgery or cutting the sternum for thoracic (chest) surgery to open up the rib cage. Whilst in surgery aseptic technique is used to prevent infection or further spreading of the disease. The surgeons' and assistants' hands, wrists and forearms are washed thoroughly for at least 4 minutes to prevent germs getting into the operative field, then sterile gloves are placed onto their hands. An antiseptic solution is applied to the area of the patient's body that will be operated on. Sterile drapes are placed around the operative site. Surgical masks are worn by the surgical team to avoid germs on droplets of liquid from their mouths and noses from contaminating the operative site.
Work to correct the problem in body then proceeds. This work may involve:
Blood or blood expanders may be administered to compensate for blood lost during surgery. Once the procedure is complete, sutures or staples are used to close the incision. Once the incision is closed, the anesthetic agents are stopped or reversed, and the patient is taken off ventilation and extubated (if general anesthesia was administered).
After completion of surgery, the patient is transferred to the post anesthesia care unit and closely monitored. When the patient is judged to have recovered from the anesthesia, he/she is either transferred to a surgical ward elsewhere in the hospital or discharged home. During the post-operative period, the patient's general function is assessed, the outcome of the procedure is assessed, and the surgical site is checked for signs of infection. There are several risk factors associated with postoperative complications, such as immune deficienty and obesity. Obesity has long been considered a risk factor for adverse post-surgical outcomes. It has been linked to many disorders such as obesity hypoventilation syndrome, atelectasis and pulmonary embolism, adverse cardiovascular effects, and wound healing complications. If removable skin closures are used, they are removed after 7 to 10 days post-operatively, or after healing of the incision is well under way.
It is not uncommon for surgical drains (see Drain (surgery)) to be required to remove blood or fluid from the surgical wound during recovery. Mostly these drains stay in until the volume tapers off, then they are removed. These drains can become clogged, leading to abscess.
Postoperative therapy may include adjuvant treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or administration of medication such as anti-rejection medication for transplants. Other follow-up studies or rehabilitation may be prescribed during and after the recovery period.
The use of topical antibiotics on surgical wounds to reduce infection rates has been questioned. Antibiotic ointments are likely to irritate the skin, slow healing, and could increase risk of developing contact dermatitis and antibiotic resistance. It has been also been suggested that topical antibiotics should only be used when a person shows signs of infection and not as a preventative. A systematic review published by Cochrane (organisation) in 2016, though, concluded that topical antibiotics applied over certain types of surgical wounds reduce the risk of surgical site infections, when compared to no treatment or use of Antiseptics. The review also did not find conclusive evidence to suggest that topical antibiotics increased the risk of local skin reactions or antibiotic resistance.
Through a retrospective analysis of national administrative data, the association between mortality and day of elective surgical procedure suggests a higher risk in procedures carried out later in the working week and on weekends. The odds of death were 44% and 82% higher respectively when comparing procedures on a Friday to a weekend procedure. This “weekday effect” has been postulated to be from several factors including poorer availability of services on a weekend, and also, decrease number and level of experience over a weekend.
In 2011, of the 38.6 million hospital stays in U.S. hospitals, 29% included at least one operating room procedure. These stays accounted for 48% of the total $387 billion in hospital costs.
The overall number of procedures remained stable from 2001 to 2011. In 2011, over 15 million operating room procedures were performed in U.S. hospitals.
Data from 2003 to 2011 showed that U.S. hospital costs were highest for the surgical service line; the surgical service line costs were $17,600 in 2003 and projected to be $22,500 in 2013. For hospital stays in 2012 in the United States, private insurance had the highest percentage of surgical expenditure. in 2012, mean hospital costs in the United States were highest for surgical stays.
Older adults have widely varying physical health. Frail elderly people are at significant risk of post-surgical complications and the need for extended care. Assessment of older patients before elective surgery can accurately predict the patients' recovery trajectories. One frailty scale uses five items: unintentional weight loss, muscle weakness, exhaustion, low physical activity, and slowed walking speed. A healthy person scores 0; a very frail person scores 5. Compared to non-frail elderly people, people with intermediate frailty scores (2 or 3) are twice as likely to have post-surgical complications, spend 50% more time in the hospital, and are three times as likely to be discharged to a skilled nursing facility instead of to their own homes. Frail elderly patients (score of 4 or 5) have even worse outcomes, with the risk of being discharged to a nursing home rising to twenty times the rate for non-frail elderly people.
Surgery on children requires considerations which are not common in adult surgery. Children and adolescents are still developing physically and mentally making it difficult for them to make informed decisions and give consent for surgical treatments. Bariatric surgery in youth is among the controversial topics related to surgery in children.
Doctors perform surgery with the consent of the patient. Some patients are able to give better informed consent than others. Populations such as incarcerated persons, people living with dementia, the mentally incompetent, persons subject to coercion, and other people who are not able to make decisions with the same authority as a typical patient have special needs when making decisions about their personal healthcare, including surgery.
In 2014, the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery was launched to examine the case for surgery as an integral component of global health care and to provide recommendations regarding the delivery of surgical and anesthesia services in low and middle income countries. Amongst the conclusions in this study, two primary conclusions were reached:
Globally, there are few studies comparing outcomes from surgery across different income level countries, although evidence suggests significantly poorer outcomes from surgery performed in lower income settings. One major prospective study of 10,745 adult patients undergoing emergency abdominal surgery from 357 centres in 58 high-, middle-, and low-income countries found that mortality is three times higher in low- compared with high-HDI countries even when adjusted for prognostic factors. In this study the overall global mortality rate was 1·6 per cent at 24 hours (high 1·1 per cent, middle 1·9 per cent, low 3·4 per cent; P < 0·001), increasing to 5·4 per cent by 30 days (high 4·5 per cent, middle 6·0 per cent, low 8·6 per cent; P < 0·001). Of the 578 patients who died, 404 (69·9 per cent) did so between 24 h and 30 days following surgery (high 74·2 per cent, middle 68·8 per cent, low 60·5 per cent). Patient safety factors were suggested to play an important role, with use of the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist associated with reduced mortality at 30 days.
Taking a similar approach, a unique global study of 1,409 children undergoing emergency abdominal surgery from 253 centres in 43 countries showed that adjusted mortality in children following surgery may be as high as 7 times greater in low-HDI and middle-HDI countries compared with high-HDI countries, translating to 40 excess deaths per 1000 procedures performed in these settings. Internationally, the most common operations performed were appendectomy, small bowel resection, pyloromyotomy and correction of intussusception. After adjustment for patient and hospital risk factors, child mortality at 30 days was significantly higher in low-HDI (adjusted OR 7.14 (95% CI 2.52 to 20.23), p<0.001) and middle-HDI (4.42 (1.44 to 13.56), p=0.009) countries compared with high-HDI countries.
Access to surgical care is increasingly recognized as an integral aspect of healthcare, and therefore is evolving into a normative derivation of human right to health. The ICESCR Article 12.1 and 12.2 define the human right to health as “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” In the August 2000, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) interpreted this to mean “right to the enjoyment of a variety of facilities, goods, services, and conditions necessary for the realization of the highest attainable health”. Surgical care can be thereby viewed as a positive right- an entitlement to protective healthcare.
Woven through the International Human and Health Rights literature is the right to be free from surgical disease. The 1966 ICESCR Article 12.2a described the need for “provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child” which was subsequently interpreted to mean “requiring measures to improve… emergency obstetric services”. Article 12.2d of the ICESCR stipulates the need for “the creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness”, and is interpreted in the 2000 comment to include timely access to “basic preventative, curative services… for appropriate treatment of injury and disability.”. Obstetric care shares close ties with reproductive rights, which includes access to reproductive health.
Surgeons and public health advocates, such as Kelly McQueen, have described surgery as “Integral to the right to health”. This is reflected in the establishment of the WHO Global Initiative for Emergency and Essential Surgical Care in 2005, the 2013 formation of the Lancet Commission for Global Surgery, the 2015 World Bank Publication of Volume 1 of its Disease Control Priorities “Essential Surgery”, and the 2015 World Health Assembly 68.15 passing of the Resolution for Strengthening Emergency and Essential Surgical Care and Anesthesia as a Component of Universal Health Coverage. The Lancet Commission for Global Surgery outlined the need for access to “available, affordable, timely and safe” surgical and anesthesia care; dimensions paralleled in ICESCR General Comment No. 14, which similarly outlines need for available, accessible, affordable and timely healthcare.
Surgical treatments date back to the prehistoric era. The oldest for which there is evidence is trepanation, in which a hole is drilled or scraped into the skull, thus exposing the dura mater in order to treat health problems related to intracranial pressure and other diseases. Prehistoric surgical techniques are seen in Ancient Egypt, where a mandible dated to approximately 2650 BC shows two perforations just below the root of the first molar, indicating the draining of an abscessed tooth. Surgical texts from ancient Egypt date back about 3500 years ago. Surgical operations were performed by priests, specialized in medical treatments similar to today, and used sutures to close wounds. Infections were treated with honey.
Remains from the early Harappan periods of the Indus Valley Civilization (c. 3300 BC) show evidence of teeth having been drilled dating back 9,000 years. Susruta was an ancient Indian surgeon commonly credited as the author of the treatise Sushruta Samhita. He is dubbed as the "founding father of surgery" and his period is usually placed between the period of 1200–600 BC. One of the earliest known mention of the name is from the Bower Manuscript where Sushruta is listed as one of the ten sages residing in the Himalayas. Texts also suggest that he learned surgery at Kasi from Lord Dhanvantari, the god of medicine in Hindu mythology. It is one of the oldest known surgical texts and it describes in detail the examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of numerous ailments, as well as procedures on performing various forms of cosmetic surgery, plastic surgery and rhinoplasty.
In ancient Greece, temples dedicated to the healer-god Asclepius, known as Asclepieia (Greek: Ασκληπιεία, sing. Asclepieion Ασκληπιείον), functioned as centers of medical advice, prognosis, and healing. In the Asclepieion of Epidaurus, some of the surgical cures listed, such as the opening of an abdominal abscess or the removal of traumatic foreign material, are realistic enough to have taken place. The Greek Galen was one of the greatest surgeons of the ancient world and performed many audacious operations—including brain and eye surgery—that were not tried again for almost two millennia.
In the Middle East, surgery was developed to a high degree in the Islamic world. Abulcasis (Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas Al-Zahrawi), an Andalusian-Arab physician and scientist who practised in the Zahra suburb of Córdoba, wrote medical texts that influenced European surgical procedures.
In Europe, the demand grew for surgeons to formally study for many years before practicing; universities such as Montpellier, Padua and Bologna were particularly renowned. In the 12th century, Rogerius Salernitanus composed his Chirurgia, laying the foundation for modern Western surgical manuals. Barber-surgeons generally had a bad reputation that was not to improve until the development of academic surgery as a specialty of medicine, rather than an accessory field. Basic surgical principles for asepsis etc., are known as Halsteads principles.
There were some important advances to the art of surgery during this period. The professor of anatomy at the University of Padua, Andreas Vesalius, was a pivotal figure in the Renaissance transition from classical medicine and anatomy based on the works of Galen, to an empirical approach of 'hands-on' dissection. In his anatomic treatis, De humani corporis fabrica, he exposed the many anatomical errors in Galen and advocated that all surgeons should train by engaging in practical dissections themselves.
The second figure of importance in this era was Ambroise Paré (sometimes spelled "Ambrose"), a French army surgeon from the 1530s until his death in 1590. The practice for cauterizing gunshot wounds on the battlefield had been to use boiling oil; an extremely dangerous and painful procedure. Paré began to employ a less irritating emollient, made of egg yolk, rose oil and turpentine. He also described more efficient techniques for the effective ligation of the blood vessels during an amputation.
The discipline of surgery was put on a sound, scientific footing during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe. An important figure in this regard was the Scottish surgical scientist, John Hunter, generally regarded as the father of modern scientific surgery. He brought an empirical and experimental approach to the science and was renowned around Europe for the quality of his research and his written works. Hunter reconstructed surgical knowledge from scratch; refusing to rely on the testimonies of others, he conducted his own surgical experiments to determine the truth of the matter. To aid comparative analysis, he built up a collection of over 13,000 specimens of separate organ systems, from the simplest plants and animals to humans.
He greatly advanced knowledge of venereal disease and introduced many new techniques of surgery, including new methods for repairing damage to the Achilles tendon and a more effective method for applying ligature of the arteries in case of an aneurysm. He was also one of the first to understand the importance of pathology, the danger of the spread of infection and how the problem of inflammation of the wound, bone lesions and even tuberculosis often undid any benefit that was gained from the intervention. He consequently adopted the position that all surgical procedures should be used only as a last resort.
Other important 18th- and early 19th-century surgeons included Percival Pott (1713–1788) who described tuberculosis on the spine and first demonstrated that a cancer may be caused by an environmental carcinogen (he noticed a connection between chimney sweep's exposure to soot and their high incidence of scrotal cancer). Astley Paston Cooper (1768–1841) first performed a successful ligation of the abdominal aorta, and James Syme (1799–1870) pioneered the Symes Amputation for the ankle joint and successfully carried out the first hip disarticulation.
Modern pain control through anesthesia was discovered in the mid-19th century. Before the advent of anesthesia, surgery was a traumatically painful procedure and surgeons were encouraged to be as swift as possible to minimize patient suffering. This also meant that operations were largely restricted to amputations and external growth removals. Beginning in the 1840s, surgery began to change dramatically in character with the discovery of effective and practical anaesthetic chemicals such as ether, first used by the American surgeon Crawford Long, and chloroform, discovered by Scottish obstetrician James Young Simpson and later pioneered by John Snow, physician to Queen Victoria. In addition to relieving patient suffering, anaesthesia allowed more intricate operations in the internal regions of the human body. In addition, the discovery of muscle relaxants such as curare allowed for safer applications.
Unfortunately, the introduction of anesthetics encouraged more surgery, which inadvertently caused more dangerous patient post-operative infections. The concept of infection was unknown until relatively modern times. The first progress in combating infection was made in 1847 by the Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis who noticed that medical students fresh from the dissecting room were causing excess maternal death compared to midwives. Semmelweis, despite ridicule and opposition, introduced compulsory handwashing for everyone entering the maternal wards and was rewarded with a plunge in maternal and fetal deaths, however the Royal Society dismissed his advice.
Until the pioneering work of British surgeon Joseph Lister in the 1860s, most medical men believed that chemical damage from exposures to bad air (see "miasma") was responsible for infections in wounds, and facilities for washing hands or a patient's wounds were not available. Lister became aware of the work of French chemist Louis Pasteur, who showed that rotting and fermentation could occur under anaerobic conditions if micro-organisms were present. Pasteur suggested three methods to eliminate the micro-organisms responsible for gangrene: filtration, exposure to heat, or exposure to chemical solutions. Lister confirmed Pasteur's conclusions with his own experiments and decided to use his findings to develop antiseptic techniques for wounds. As the first two methods suggested by Pasteur were inappropriate for the treatment of human tissue, Lister experimented with the third, spraying carbolic acid on his instruments. He found that this remarkably reduced the incidence of gangrene and he published his results in The Lancet. Later, on 9 August 1867, he read a paper before the British Medical Association in Dublin, on the Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery, which was reprinted in The British Medical Journal. His work was groundbreaking and laid the foundations for a rapid advance in infection control that saw modern antiseptic operating theatres widely used within 50 years.
Lister continued to develop improved methods of antisepsis and asepsis when he realised that infection could be better avoided by preventing bacteria from getting into wounds in the first place. This led to the rise of sterile surgery. Lister introduced the Steam Steriliser to sterilize equipment, instituted rigorous hand washing and later implemented the wearing of rubber gloves. These three crucial advances – the adoption of a scientific methodology toward surgical operations, the use of anaesthetic and the introduction of sterilised equipment – laid the groundwork for the modern invasive surgical techniques of today.
The use of X-rays as an important medical diagnostic tool began with their discovery in 1895 by German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen. He noticed that these rays could penetrate the skin, allowing the skeletal structure to be captured on a specially treated photographic plate.
Hieronymus Fabricius, Operationes chirurgicae, 1685
An operation in 1753, painted by Gaspare Traversi.