Cause and prevention of electrosurgical injuries in laparoscopy.

CC, Super PA, Monson JR, Darzi AW. J Am Coll Surg. 1994 Aug;179(2):161-70.



Electrosurgical injuries occur during laparoscopic operations and are potentially serious. The overall incidence of recognized injuries is between one and two patients per 1,000 operations. The majority go unrecognized at the time of the electrical insult and commonly present three to seven days afterward with fever and pain in the abdomen. Since these injuries appear late the pathophysiology remains speculative.

Study design

This article reviewed the physics of electrosurgery and provides the surgeon with an insight to the mechanisms responsible in each type of injury. In addition, a comprehensive search of the world literature has reviewed all articles on the topic.


The main causes of electrosurgical injuries are: inadvertent touching or grasping of tissue during current application, direct coupling between a portion of intestine and a metal probe that is touching the activated probe, insulation breaks in the electrodes, direct sparking to the intestine from the diathermy probe, and current passage to the intestine from recently coagulated, electrically isolated tissue. The majority of injuries, not surprisingly, are caused by monopolar diathermy. Bipolar diathermy is safer and should be used in preference to monopolar diathermy, especially in anatomically crowded areas.


An awareness of the hazards of diathermy together with an understanding of the mechanisms of injury should enable the surgeon to dissect tissue and to achieve hemostasis, while at the same time decreasing the risk of serious complications to the patient.