Definition and Overview

Surgery is a medical specialty that focuses on the use of operative techniques to investigate and resolve certain medical conditions caused by disease or traumatic injury. Surgery can have many possible purposes, such as to improve bodily function, enhance physical appearance, or repair damaged or ruptured areas.

There are different types of surgeries grouped according to their urgency, body part involved, the nature of the procedure, the level of invasiveness, and instruments used. The main categories of surgical procedures include:

Surgeries based on timing

  • Elective surgery – This refers to procedures that are performed to correct conditions that are not life-threatening. Instead, they are only carried out due to the request of the patient.
  • Emergency surgery – Emergency surgeries are those performed to save a patient’s life or limb. It is usually necessary after a traumatic incident or an injury.
  • Semi-elective surgery – Semi-elective procedures are those that are performed to avoid the consequences or effects of illness or injury, but are not urgent in nature. These procedures can be postponed for a certain period.

Surgeries based on purpose

  • Exploratory surgery – This refers to procedures conducted mainly to support or confirm a suspected diagnosis.
  • Therapeutic surgery – These are procedures performed specifically to treat a condition that has been previously confirmed.

Surgeries based on the procedure type

  • Reconstructive surgery – This type of surgery is performed to reconstruct a part of the body that was injured, deformed, or mutilated as a result of injury, disease or previous operation such as mastectomy.
  • Resectioning – This refers to surgeries done to remove a certain internal organ either partially or completely.
  • Replantation – The opposite of resectioning, this refers to surgeries performed to reattach severed body parts.
  • Transplant – This is a surgery where an organ or body part is replaced by an organ that came from a different source.
  • Amputation – In an amputation, a specific limb or body part is cut off. This is usually performed to prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of the body.
  • Cosmetic surgery – Very popular nowadays, cosmetic surgery is used to enhance the appearance of a person.

Surgeries based on body part – There are numerous types of surgeries based on body parts; some examples are:

  • Cardiac surgery – This refers to surgeries performed on the heart.
  • Orthopaedic surgery – Surgeries performed to correct conditions that affect the bones and muscles.
  • Gastrointestinal surgery – Gastrointestinal surgery corrects certain conditions that affect the digestive tract and its different related organs.

Surgeries based on invasiveness

  • Laparotomy – A laparotomy is a surgery that requires a large incision.
  • Laparoscopic – Surgeries that are performed only through small incisions are called laparoscopic; most major surgical procedures nowadays have their laparoscopic equivalents that reduce the recovery time as well as the level of pain and discomfort the patient has to go through.

Surgeries based on technology or equipment used

  • Laser surgery
  • Robotic surgery
  • Endoscopic surgery
  • Microscopic surgery

Who Should Undergo & Expected Results

  • People who are experiencing painful conditions or are facing a great risk of such conditions
  • People who are experiencing severe symptoms affecting their body functions
  • People with suspected diseases sometimes need to undergo surgery, such as a biopsy, to receive a confirmation regarding their condition.
  • People who are suffering from serious diseases usually undergo surgery to save their lives.

Not all patients in need of surgery immediately undergo it. Patients are first evaluated to make sure that the surgery will do more good than harm. In some cases, patients’ conditions are too sensitive or delicate that they might not be able to withstand surgery. Thus, all patients are first assessed and awarded a surgical clearance once it is confirmed that they are fit to undergo the surgery.

How Does the Procedure Work?

The act of performing a surgery is usually called an operation or a surgical procedure, to identify it from surgery as a medical specialty. A surgical procedure is a specific form of treatment that uses surgical instruments and is usually performed by a team consisting of surgeons, surgeon’s assistant, anesthesiologist, surgical nurse, and a surgical technologist. The whole procedure can take minutes to hours depending on its nature and the underlying condition that requires treatment. It is, however, not an ongoing treatment.

Different surgical procedures call for different methods of pre-operative preparation and care. Prior to undergoing a surgery, the patients first have to undergo a medical examination, after which they are rated using the ASA physical status classification system. If deemed fit to undergo surgery, patients are asked give their consent, which is a requirement to acquire a surgical clearance. The time leading up to the surgery is used to prepare for the procedure, such as conducting an autologous blood donation program weeks before a surgery that is expected to cause a lot of blood loss.

Likewise, after the surgery, patients are given instructions on how to care for themselves until they fully recover. During the first few days, patients are closely monitored; this may be done at the hospital, in case of major or invasive operations, or at the patient’s own home. They are also usually given medications to speed up the recovery process and lower the risk of post-operative complications.

Possible Complications and Risks

All surgeries have risks and possible complications, such as:

  • Persistent post-operative pain
  • Blood clots
  • Fatigue or low energy level
  • Muscle atrophy caused by lack of mobility and exercise during the post-operative recovery period
  • Infection
  • Bleeding/haemorrhage
  • Lingering effects of anesthesia

The possible complications and risks differ based on the type of surgery performed. Major operations such as open-heart surgery have a higher risk of complications, but the field of surgery has now found ways to lower the risks by using minimally invasive laparoscopic surgeries.


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