surgery, branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of injuries and the excision and repair of pathological conditions by means of operative procedures (see also anesthesia; medicine; radiology).

Early History

In prehistoric times, sharpened flints and other sharp-edged devices were used to perform various surgical operations. Circumcision and other ritualistic operations were later performed with similar instruments. There are indications that in Neolithic times saws of stone and bone were used to perform amputations. Nearly all major operations were performed by the ancient Hindus nearly a thousand years before the advent of Greek medicine. Knowledge of the use of soporific potions to alleviate the pain caused by surgery can be traced to remote antiquity.

The early Greeks and Romans practiced surgery with great skill and with such cleanliness that infection of surgical and other wounds was relatively uncommon. Their cleanliness and their use of boiled water or wine for irrigating wounds was probably suggested by Hippocrates, a competent surgeon and diagnostician of that time. Other notable early surgeons were Erasistratus and Herophilus of the medical school at Alexandria, and Galen, whose numerous treatises were long influential.

The surgical and sanitary techniques employed by the Greeks and Romans were lost with the decline of their civilizations. During the Middle Ages in Europe there was a marked regression in surgical knowledge, and postoperative infection was common. Surgical practice soon fell into the hands of the unskilled and uneducated: the barber-surgeon, who performed the usual functions of a barber as well as surgical operations, became a common figure, especially in England and France. It was not until the 18th cent. that surgery began to reach a professional level. There were, nevertheless, notable figures in early surgery, among them Guy de Chauliac in the 14th cent., and in the 16th cent. Ambroise Paré, who developed sutures and ligatures to stop bleeding and sew up wounds.

The Birth of Modern Surgery

With the introduction of antiseptic methods, surgery entered its modern phase. Louis Pasteur established the fact that microbes are responsible for infection and disease. Using this knowledge, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis reduced postpartum infections (puerperal sepsis) in the wards of Vienna's lying-in hospitals by urging doctors to wash their hands between patients. In the 1860s Joseph Lister introduced the use of carbolic acid as a cleansing and disinfecting agent, and his results in reducing infection were dramatic. It was found later that the carbolic acid spray that Lister used to cleanse the air about the patient was unnecessary, but the antiseptic treatment of instruments and other articles in contact with the patient continued until antisepsis was gradually replaced by the aseptic methods employed in modern hospitals. Before the discovery of antisepsis by Lister, about 80% of surgical patients contracted gangrene.

Ernst von Bergmann is credited with introducing steam sterilization under pressure for treating instruments and all other medical equipment used for a surgical patient. William Stewart Halsted, the famous surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, introduced sterile rubber gloves when the hands of his fiancée became irritated from constant washings and antiseptics. The development of methods of anesthesia, especially the discovery in the 1840s of the value of ether, has also been of immeasurable value.

Surgery in the Twentieth Century

In the 20th cent., surgery has benefited from an improved understanding of the causes of shock and its treatment; knowledge of blood group typing and transfusion techniques; understanding of blood clotting and the use of anticoagulants; and the development of antibiotics to control infection and analgesics to control pain. Surgical instruments have developed along with modern technology and are now sophisticated, meticulously designed devices. Electrically powered surgical instruments are invaluable for cautery and for separating hard tissues such as bone with minimal damage. Surgical stapling instruments, first developed in the Soviet Union, can join blood vessels or other tissues in less than half the time required by hand stitching. New medical glues, surgical tapes, and even zippers now enable surgeons to close some wounds effectively without stitches. With the development of X-ray techniques and fluoroscopy and, later, CAT scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), surgery gained valuable diagnostic instruments. Some operations are now being conducted inside specially adapted MRI devices, allowing the surgeon to have live images for guidance during operations. Holograms can be created using data from MRI and other diagnostic instruments and are beginning to be used in the operating room to give surgeons a three-dimensional image of the area to be operated upon.

Cryogenic, or supercooled, probe beams have been used to precisely remove tissues and abnormal growths. Ultrasound techniques, using very-high-frequency sound waves, are used to break up kidney stones and are employed in brain and inner-ear operations, which require great precision and control. They are also used to scan the pregnant uterus, a process that, unlike X-ray scanning, does not endanger the fetus. Medical lasers, which produce amplified monochromatic light waves in a very narrowly focused beam, have become useful tools in various forms of surgery, notably that of the eye, and are now commonly used to remove or "spot-weld" tissues.

The heart-lung machine made open-heart surgery possible by taking over the blood-pumping and breathing functions of these organs during operations. Hypothermia, or cold surgery, by which the body is cooled to lower the rate of metabolism, thus reducing the need for oxygen, has made long operations, especially those involving transplantation, possible. Other recent transplantation advances include procedures involving the liver, lungs, pancreas, bone marrow, and the kidney. The first human heart transplant was performed in 1967 by South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard. The usefulness of transplantation is currently limited by the fact that drugs must be used constantly to halt the body's rejection of foreign tissue.

New techniques in orthopedic surgery (see also orthopedics) have also been introduced, including the use of cementing substances to unite bones destroyed by tumor and the replacement of joints with metal or plastic devices. Plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery have made enormous strides, and microsurgery is making severed or injured limbs usable.

A trend toward less invasive surgery and shorter hospital stays began in the 1980s. By 1995 more than 56% of all surgical procedures in the United States were done on an outpatient basis, without an overnight stay in a hospital. Endoscopic surgery, using small incisions and tiny instruments attached to fiber-optic viewing devices (see endoscope), has been used in place of more traditional procedures for gall-bladder surgery, and it has been used on the fetus in the womb to correct life-threatening birth defects before birth. Angioplasty is frequently used to circumvent or postpone the need for coronary artery bypass.


See O. H. Wangensteen and S. D. Wangensteen, The Rise of Surgery (1979); R. Selzer, Confessions of a Knife (1979); A. S. Earle, Surgery in America: From the Colonial Era to the Twentieth Century (1965, rev. ed. 1983); R. M. Youngson, The Surgery Book (1993).

Surgery (from the χειρουργική cheirourgikē, via chirurgiae, meaning "hand work") is a medical specialty that uses operative manual and instrumental techniques on a patient to investigate and/or treat a pathological condition such as disease or injury, to help improve bodily function or appearance, or sometimes for some other reason. An act of performing surgery may be called a surgical procedure, operation, or simply surgery. In this context, the verb operating means performing 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 performs operations on patients. Persons described as surgeons are commonly medical practitioners, but the term is also applied to podiatrists, dentists and veterinarians. Surgery can last from minutes to hours, but is typically not an ongoing or periodic type of treatment. The term surgery can also refer to the place where surgery is performed, or simply the office of a physician, dentist, or veterinarian.

Definitions of surgery

Surgery is a medical 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).

Types of surgery

Surgical procedures are commonly categorized by urgency, type of procedure, body system involved, degree of invasiveness, and special instrumentation.

Elective surgery is done to correct a non-life-threatening condition, and is carried out at the patient's request, subject to the surgeon's and the surgical facility's availability. Emergency surgery is surgery which must be done quickly to save life, limb, or functional capacity. Exploratory surgery is performed to aid or confirm a diagnosis. Therapeutic surgery treats a previously diagnosed condition.

Amputation involves cutting off a body part, usually a limb or digit. Replantation involves reattaching a severed body part. Reconstructive surgery involves reconstruction of an injured, mutilated, or deformed part of the body. Cosmetic surgery is done to improve the appearance of an otherwise normal structure. Excision is the cutting out of an organ, tissue, or other body part from the patient. Transplant surgery is the replacement of an organ or body part by insertion of another from different human (or animal) into the patient. Removing an organ or body part from a live human or animal for use in transplant is also a type of surgery.

When surgery is performed on one organ system or structure, it may be classed by the organ, organ system or tissue involved. Examples include cardiac surgery (performed on the heart), gastrointestinal surgery (performed within the digestive tract and its accessory organs), and orthopedic surgery (performed on bones and/or muscles).

Minimally invasive surgery involves smaller outer incision(s) to insert miniaturized instruments within a body cavity or structure, as in laparoscopic surgery or angioplasty. By contrast, an open surgical procedure requires a large incision to access the area of interest. Laser surgery involves use of a laser for cutting tissue instead of a scalpel or similar surgical instruments. Microsurgery involves the use of an operating microscope for the surgeon to see small structures. Robotic surgery makes use of a surgical robot, such as the Da Vinci or the Zeus surgical systems, to control the instrumentation under the direction of the surgeon.


  • Excision surgery names often start with a name for the organ to be excised (cut out) and end in -ectomy.
  • Procedures involving cutting into an organ or tissue end in -otomy. A surgical procedure cutting through the abdominal wall to gain access to the abdominal cavity is a laparotomy.
  • Minimally invasive procedures involving small incisions through which an endoscope is inserted end in -oscopy. For example, such surgery in the abdominal cavity is called laparoscopy.
  • Procedures for formation of a permanent or semi-permanent opening called a stoma in the body end in -ostomy.
  • Reconstruction, plastic or cosmetic surgery of a body part starts with a name for the body part to be reconstructed and ends in -oplasty. Rhino is used as a prefix for "nose", so rhinoplasty is basically reconstructive or cosmetic surgery for the nose.
  • Reparation of damaged or congenital abnormal structure ends in -rraphy. Herniorraphy is the reparation of a hernia, while perineorraphy is the reparation of perineum.

Description of surgical procedure

At a hospital, modern surgery is often done in an operating room using surgical instruments, an operating table for the patient, and other equipment. 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, certain pre-operative tests, and an ASA score. 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.

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 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. Sterile drapes are used to cover all of the patient's body except for the surgical site and the patient's head; 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 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.

An incision is made to access the surgical site. Blood vessels may be clamped 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 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.

Work to correct the problem in body then proceeds. This work may involve:

  • excision - cutting out an organ, tumor, or other tissue.
  • resection - partial removal of an organ or other bodily structure.
  • reconnection of organs, tissues, etc., particularly if severed. Resection of organs such as intestines involves reconnection. Internal suturing or stapling may be used. Surgical connection between blood vessels or other tubular or hollow structures such as loops of intestine is called anastomosis.
  • ligation - tying off blood vessels, ducts, or "tubes".
  • grafts - may be severed pieces of tissue cut from the same (or different) body or flaps of tissue still partly connected to the body but resewn for rearranging or restructuring of the area of the body in question. Although grafting is often used in cosmetic surgery, it is also used in other surgery. Grafts may be taken from one area of the patient's body and inserted to another area of the body. An example is bypass surgery, where clogged blood vessels are bypassed with a graft from another part of the body. Alternatively, grafts may be from other persons, cadavers, or animals.
  • insertion of prosthetic parts when needed. Pins or screws to set and hold bones may be used. Sections of bone may be replaced with prosthetic rods or other parts. Sometime a plate is inserted to replace a damaged area of skull. Artificial hip replacement has become more common. Heart pacemakers or valves may be inserted. Many other types of prostheses are used.
  • creation of a stoma, a permanent or semi-permanent opening in the body
  • in transplant surgery, the donor organ (taken out of the donor's body) is inserted into the recipient's body and reconnected to the recipient in all necessary ways (blood vessels, ducts, etc.).
  • arthrodesis - surgical connection of adjacent bones so the bones can grow together into one. Spinal fusion is an example of adjacent vertebrae connected allowing them to grow together into one piece.
  • modifying the digestive tract in bariatric surgery for weight loss.
  • repair of a fistula, hernia, or prolapse
  • other procedures, including:

*clearing clogged ducts, blood or other vessels
*removal of calculi (stones)
*draining of accumulated fluids
*debridement- removal of dead, damaged, or diseased tissue

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 and/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. 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.

Post-operative 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.


At least two prehistoric cultures had developed forms of surgery. 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. Evidence has been found in prehistoric human remains from Neolithic times, in cave paintings, and the procedure continued in use well into recorded history. Surprisingly, many prehistoric and premodern patients had signs of their skull structure healing; suggesting that many survived the operation. In ancient India, 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. A final candidate for prehistoric surgical techniques is 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.

The oldest known surgical texts date back to ancient Egyptian about 3500 years ago. Surgeries were performed by priests, specialized in medical treatments similar to today. The procedures were documented on papyrus and were the first to describe patient case files; the Edwin Smith Papyrus (held in the New York Academy of Medicine) documents surgical procedures based on anatomy and physiology, while the Ebers Papyrus describes healing based on magic. Their medical expertise was later documented by Herodotus: "The practice of medicine is very specialized among them. Each physician treats just one disease. The country is full of physicians, some treat the eye, some the teeth, some of what belongs to the abdomen, and others internal diseases.

Other ancient cultures to have surgical knowledge include Ancient India, China and Greece.

Sushruta (also spelled Susruta or Sushrutha) (c. 6th century BC) was a renowned surgeon of Ancient India, and the author of the book Sushruta Samhita. In his book, he described over 120 surgical instruments, 300 surgical procedures and classifies human surgery into 8 categories. Sushruta is also known as the father of plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery. He was a surgeon from the dhanvantari school of Ayurveda.

The Hippocratic Oath was an innovation of the Greek physician Hippocrates. However ancient Greek culture traditionally considered the practice of opening the body to be repulsive and thus left known surgical practices such as lithotomy to such persons as practice [it]. In China, Hua Tuo was a famous Chinese physician during the Eastern Han and Three Kingdoms era. He was the first person to perform surgery with the aid of anesthesia, albeit a rudimentary and unsophisticated form.

In the Middle Ages, 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 shaped European surgical procedures up until the Renaissance. He is also often regarded as a Father of Surgery.

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. By the fifteenth century at the latest, surgery had split away from physics as its own subject, of a lesser status than pure medicine, and initially took the form of a craft tradition until Rogerius Salernitanus composed his Chirurgia, laying the foundation for modern Western surgical manuals up to the modern time. Late in the nineteenth century, Bachelor of Surgery degrees (usually Ch.B.) began to be awarded with the (M.B.), and the mastership became a higher degree, usually abbreviated Ch.M. or M.S. in London, where the first degree was M.B.,B.S..

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

Modern surgery

Modern surgery developed rapidly with the scientific era. Ambroise Paré (sometimes spelled "Ambrose) pioneered the treatment of gunshot wounds, and the first modern surgeons were battlefield doctors in the Napoleonic Wars. Naval surgeons were often barber surgeons, who combined surgery with their main jobs as barbers. Three main developments permitted the transition to modern surgical approaches - control of bleeding, control of infection and control of pain (anaesthesia). Bleeding: Before modern surgical developments, there was a very real threat that a patient would bleed to death before treatment, or during the operation. Cauterization (fusing a wound closed with extreme heat) was successful but limited - it was destructive, painful and in the long term had very poor outcomes. Ligatures, or material used to tie off severed blood vessels, are believed to have originated with Abulcasis in the 10th century and improved by Ambroise Paré in the 16th century. Though this method was a significant improvement over the method of cauterization, it was still dangerous until infection risk was brought under control - at the time of its discovery, the concept of infection was not fully understood. Finally, early 20th century research into blood groups allowed the first effective blood transfusions. Infection: 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 in the UK still dismissed his advice. Significant progress came following the work of Pasteur, when the British surgeon Joseph Lister began experimenting with using phenol during surgery to prevent infections. Lister was able to quickly reduce infection rates, a reduction that was further helped by his subsequent introduction of techniques to sterilize equipment, have rigorous hand washing and a later implementation of rubber gloves. Lister published his work as a series of articles in The Lancet (March 1867) under the title Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery. The work was groundbreaking and laid the foundations for a rapid advance in infection control that saw modern aseptic operating theatres widely used within 50 years (Lister himself went on to make further strides in antisepsis and asepsis throughout his lifetime). Pain: Modern pain control through anesthesia was discovered by two American dental surgeons, Horace Wells (1815-1848) and William Morton. 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 and chloroform, later pioneered in Britain by John Snow. 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.

Surgical specialties and sub-specialties

*Cardiothoracic Surgery
*Colorectal Surgery
*Paediatric Surgery
*Plastic Surgery
*Vascular Surgery

Some other specialties involve some forms of surgical intervention, especially gynaecology. Also, some people consider invasive methods of treatment/diagnosis, such as, cardiac catheterization, endoscopy, and placing of chest tubes or central lines "surgery". In most parts of the medical field, this view is not shared.

See also

Governing bodies and qualifications


External links

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