3 Key Differences Between Electrosurgery & Electrocautery

The terms electrosurgery and electrocautery are frequently confused, even amongst many professionals working in various healthcare related fields. And even though both of these procedures are applied within several medical specialties, they are quite different in terms of both tools used and method of application.

The Significant Differences

Let’s take a closer look at both procedures in-order to further illustrate the differences between the two in terms of therapeutic application and the tools used.

  1. Electrosurgery passes electrical current through tissue to accomplish a desired result. The electricity used is a form of alternating current similar to the that used to generate radio waves. The typical frequency is quite high, with the norm  being around 500,000 cycles per second. This ensures that the current passes through the patients tissue as opposed to producing an electric shock effect. The heat is created by the resistance of the tissue to the electrical current and the tools used to apply the current are electrodes and includes  blades, round ball, needle and loop configurations . The electrode selection depends upon and intended outcome.. These instruments can be used to cut, coagulate , or even to fuse tissue.

  2. Electrocautery uses electrical current to heat a metal wire that is then applied to the target tissue in order to burn or coagulate the specific area of tissue. It is not used to pass the current through tissue, but rather is applied directly onto the targeted area of treatment. Using this technique, heat is passed through a resistant metal wire which is used as an electrode. This hot electrode is then placed directly onto the treatment area destroying that specific tissue. This use of electricity is typically applied in superficial situations encountered by dermatologists, ophthalmologists, plastic surgeons, urologists, and related specialties.

  3. Another rather obvious difference between the two is that electrocautery devices are usually small, battery operated,   devices which use physical heat to destroy the targeted tissues or cause a specific and desired effect. The electosurgery devices are more sophisticated radio-wave generators that pass modified electrical current through the target tissues to achieve the desired surgical result.

The bottom line here is that electrosurgery is not synonymous with electrocautery, despite their mutual use of electrical current to deliver their respective treatment goals.

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Electrosurgery Applications

Since the electrosurgery procedure is somewhat more complex than electrocautery, a bit of confusion over how it is used persists, even after the distinction between the two is understood. There are two principle methods of employing electrosurgery: monopolar and bipolar procedures.

In order to properly perform monopolar electrosurgery,.a complete electrical circuit is required which consists of; the electrode, patient, return electrode (grounding plate) and the electrosurgical generator (ESU). With the monopolar technique, the electrical current travels from an electrode through the patient until it reaches a grounding pad (return electrode) placed in proximity another location on the patient’s skin, most typically on the opposite side of the body from the incision and then the energy returns to the generator.

The bipolar technique utilizes a forceps-style electrode, Which acts as the electrode and return electrode, whereby the electrical current travels from one tip to the other, with the targeted tissue placed between them. The key difference between the two being that monopolar uses a grounding plate to direct the current, while bipolar employs opposing electrode points to accomplish the same thing.

Both methods differ from electrocautery in that they draw electrical current through the tissue rather than using it to heat an electrode to be placed at one precise point on the tissue.

Bovie Medical is proud to manufacture both electrosurgery and electrocautery products.