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Glossary - Surgical Care

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Abdominal hysterectomy - the uterus is removed through the abdomen via a surgical incision.

Abdominoscopy - a type of surgery using a laparoscope, which is inserted into one or more small incisions, to examine the abdominal cavity. (See also endoscopy, laparoscopy, or minimally invasive surgery.)

Acute appendicitis - acute inflammation of the appendix due to infection.

Advance directives - legal documents stating a patient's medical preferences in the event the patient should become incapable of voicing his/her opinion. (See also durable power of attorney and living will.)

Anesthesia - medicine administered for the relief of pain and sensation during surgery.

Antibiotics - medication used to treat infection.

Anticoagulation drugs - medication used to prevent blood clots from forming.

Appendectomy - the surgical removal of the appendix to treat acute appendicitis.

Arthroscopy - with the use of an endoscope, surgeons can look at the interior of a joint. This technique is most often used to inspect the inside of the knee joint.

Artificial ventilation - the process of supporting breathing by manual or mechanical means when normal breathing is inefficient or has stopped.


Biopsy - a diagnostic test involving the removal of tissue or cells for examination under a microscope.

Blood pressure - the pressure of the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls.

Bronchoscopy - the examination of the bronchi (the main airways of the lungs) using a flexible tube (bronchoscope). Bronchoscopy helps to evaluate and diagnose lung problems, assess blockages, obtain samples of tissue and/or fluid, and/or to help remove a foreign body.


Catheter - a flexible tube used to drain fluid from or inject fluid into the body. One common type of catheter is the Foley catheter, used to drain urine from the bladder.

Cholecystectomy - surgery to remove the gallbladder.

Colectomy - partial or complete removal of the large bowel or colon.

Colonoscopy - a test that uses a long, flexible tube with a light and camera lens at the end (colonoscope) to examine inside the large intestine.

Colposcopy - visual examination of the cervix and vagina using a lighted magnifying instrument (colposcope).

Computed tomography (CT or CAT scan) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

Craniectomy - excision of a part of the skull.

Craniotomy - surgical opening of the skull to gain access to the intracranial structures.

Cystoscopy - inserting a viewing tube up the urethra to examine the urethra and bladder cavity.


Debridement - the surgical removal of foreign material and/or dead, damaged, or infected tissue from a wound or burn.

Deep vein thrombosis - blood clotting which occurs within deep-lying veins.

Diathermy machine - a piece of equipment used in the operating room to control bleeding.

Dilation and curettage (D & C) - a common gynecological surgery which consists of widening the cervical canal with a dilator and scraping the uterine cavity with a curette.

Durable power of attorney - a legal document denoting a friend or family member as your legal guardian in case you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself.


Elective surgery - an operation the patient chooses to have done, which may not be essential to continuation of quality of life. (See also optional surgery.)

Electrocardiogram - a test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias or dysrhythmias), and detects heart muscle damage.

Electrocoagulation - electrosurgery which helps harden tissue.

Electrodesiccation - electrosurgery which destroys tissue.

Electrosurgery - surgery which uses electrical instruments.

Emergency surgery - an operation performed immediately as a result of an urgent medical condition. (See also urgent surgery.)

Endarterectomy - the surgical removal of plaque or blood clots in an artery.

Endoscopy - a test that uses a small, flexible tube with a light and a camera lens at the end (endoscope) to examine the inside of part of the digestive tract. Tissue samples from inside the digestive tract may also be taken for examination and testing.

Epidural anesthetic - an anesthetic that is injected into the "epidural space" in the middle and lower back, just outside the spinal space, to numb the lower extremities.

Esophagus - the muscular canal that runs from the voice box to the stomach.


Fallopian tubes - tubes that extend from the uterus to the ovaries. The fallopian tube transports eggs and sperm.

Free skin graft - the detaching of healthy skin from one part of the body to repair areas of lost or damaged skin in another part of the body.


Gastrectomy - complete or partial removal of the stomach.

Gastroscopy - examining the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine with a long viewing tube.

General anesthetic - an anesthetic that causes the patient to become unconscious during surgery.


Heart rate - the rate at which the heart beats. Normal heart rates range between 60 and 100 beats per minute.

Hemorrhage - the medical term for bleeding.

Hemorrhoidectomy - the surgical removal of hemorrhoids.

Hemorrhoids - distended veins in the lining of the anus.

Hysterectomy - the surgical removal of the uterus.

Hysteroscopy - a visual inspection of the cervical canal and uterine cavity with an endoscope.


Inguinal hernias - protrusions of part of the intestine into the muscles of the groin.

Infection - the invasion of the body by microorganisms that cause disease.

Informed consent form - a form signed by the patient prior to surgery which explains everything involved in the surgery, including its risks.

Inpatient surgery - surgery that requires the patient to be admitted and stay in the hospital.

Intravenous line - a thin, plastic tube inserted into a vein (usually in the patient's forearm) through which a volume of fluid is injected into the bloodstream.




Laminectomy - surgical procedure that includes removal of a portion of the lamina, to provide more room in the vertebral canal; usually for disc herniation or spinal canal stenosis.

Laparoscopic cholecystectomy - an operation to remove the gallbladder. The physician inserts a laparoscope, and other surgical instruments, through small holes in the abdomen. The camera allows the physician to see the gallbladder on a television screen. The physician removes the gallbladder through the holes.

Laparoscopic lymphadenectomy - the removal of pelvic lymph nodes with a laparoscope done through four small incisions in the lower abdominal region.

Laparoscopy - a test that uses a tube with a light and a camera lens at the end (laparoscope) to examine organs and check for abnormalities. Laparoscopy is often used during surgery to look inside the body and avoid making large incisions. Tissue samples may also be taken for examination and testing.

Laryngoscopy - inspecting the larynx (voice box) with a mirror or viewing tube.

Laser surgery - using a device that emits a beam of light radiation, surgeons can cauterize a wound, repair damaged tissue, or cut through tissue.

Living will - a legal document that states your medical preferences for treatment and resuscitation in the event you can no longer speak for yourself.

Lobectomy - removal of a lobe of the lung, for cancer, benign tumors, or infections.

Local anesthesia - anesthetic medicine injected into the site of the operation to temporarily numb that area.

Lumpectomy - a surgical procedure to remove a small breast tumor and surrounding tissue.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

Mastectomy - the removal of all or part of the breast.

Minimally invasive surgery - any technique involved in surgery that does not require a large incision. (See also endoscopy, abdominoscopy, or laparoscopy.)

Modified radical mastectomy - surgical removal of the entire breast and the ancillary lymph nodes.


Needle aspiration (of the breast) - uses a thin needle and syringe to collect tissue or drain a lump after using a local anesthetic.

Needle biopsy (of the breast) - a procedure to remove a small piece of breast tissue using a needle with a special cutting edge, after using a local anesthetic.

Nephrectomy - surgical removal of the kidney.


Open surgery - cutting the skin and tissues during surgery to expose a full view of the structures and organs involved in the procedure.

Optional surgery - an operation the patient chooses to have done, which may not be essential to continuation or quality of life. (See also elective surgery.)

Outpatient surgery - surgery that allows the patient to go home the same day.

ovary - one of a pair of almond-shaped glands situated on either side of the uterus. Egg cells develop in the ovaries.


Partial colectomy - the removal of part of the large intestine.

Peritoneal adhesions - the peritoneum is a two-layered membrane that lines the wall of the abdominal cavity and covers abdominal organs. Sometimes organs begin to adhere to the peritoneum, requiring surgery to free the organs again.

Plasma - the watery, straw-colored fluid which carries the cellular elements of the blood through circulation.

Pneumonectomy - removal of an entire lung, for cancer, lung abscesses, bronchiectasis, or extensive tuberculosis.

Post-anesthesia care unit - the area a patient is brought to after surgery to recover. Also called recovery room.

Prostatectomy - surgical procedure for the partial or complete removal of the prostate.



Radical mastectomy - surgical removal of the entire breast, the pectoral muscles, and the ancillary lymph nodes.

Regional anesthetic - an anesthetic used to numb a portion of the body.

Required surgery - an operation that is necessary to continue quality of life. Required surgery may not have to be done immediately, like emergency surgery.


Saline solution - a solution containing sodium chloride.

Salpingectomy - surgical removal of a fallopian tube.

Shock - a dangerous reduction of blood flow throughout the body.

Sigmoidoscopy - a test that uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera lens at the end to look at the inside of the rectum and lower large intestine for abnormalities.

Simple mastectomy - surgical removal of the breast and possibly a few of the axillary lymph nodes close to the breast.

Spinal anesthetic - an anesthetic that is injected into the spinal canal fluid for surgery in the lower abdomen, pelvis, rectum, or other lower extremities.

Splenectomy - surgical removal of the spleen.

Subtotal or partial gastrectomy - surgical removal of a portion of the stomach.


Thoracotomy - surgery to view the lung that may be used to confirm cancer, or for chest trauma to detect the source of bleeding.

Thrombolytic drugs - medication used to dissolve blood clots.

Total gastrectomy - complete removal of the stomach.

Total hysterectomy - the entire uterus is surgically removed, including the cervix; the fallopian tubes and the ovaries remain.

Total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy - the entire uterus, fallopian tubes, and the ovaries are surgically removed.


Urgent surgery - an operation performed immediately as a result of an urgent medical condition. (See also emergency surgery.)

Urinary retention - the inability to empty the bladder.

Uterus - a hollow, muscular organ of the female reproductive system.



Wedge resection of the lung - a small, localized section of the lung is removed - often for a lung biopsy.


X-rays - a diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.



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