Electrocautery: Bipolar vs Monopolar. What is The Difference?

When discussing the different function of electrosurgical units, one common phrase that tends to pop up in conversation is “electrocautery.”

Another set of terms that seem to inevitably find their way into the conversation are “monopolar” and “bipolar.”

Understanding what each of these phrases means is important for effectively communicating in the electrosurgical device world.

In this post, we’ll discuss electrocautery and the differences between monopolar and bipolar electrosurgery

Recommended: Read more about how ATL can help with your electrosurgical device.


What is the difference between “electrocautery” and “electrosurgery”?

People in the field will commonly use the terms “electrocautery” and “electrosurgery” to describe the same types of procedures and devices.

Though you may be able to get the point across by using the two words interchangeably, there is an important technical difference between the two that you should be aware of.

Before we begin, it’s important to note that “electrosurgery” is a catchall phrase that could encompass any surgical procedure that utilizes an electrosurgical unit.

However, “electrosurgery” is generally used to describe operations that utilize an alternating current to cut and coagulate tissue.

At the correct frequency, an alternating current can cut tissue without searing it.

“Cauterization” is the practice of burning tissue in an attempt to close or remove it.

Electrocautery” is a term used to describe the cauterization of tissue using electric heat.

In an electrocautery device, a direct current is typically used to heat a piece of metal on the end of the handpiece, which is then used for cauterization.

Compared to electrosurgery, electrocautery does not require a closed circuit and does not send a current through the body.


What is the difference between “monopolar” and “bipolar” electrosurgery?

As we mentioned above, electrosurgical units use alternating current to reach the frequency necessary to cut and coagulate tissue.

For an alternating current to flow properly, the circuit must be closed.

The easiest way to understand the difference between “monopolar” and “bipolar” electrosurgery is to understand how the circuit is closed.

As you may recall from our blog post on electrosurgical systems, many electrosurgical operations require a dispersive pad to close the circuit.

The operations that utilize a dispersive pad are referred to as “monopolar” electrosurgery.

In monopolar electrosurgery, the current travels from the electrode in the handpiece through the body to the dispersive pad, which sends the current back to the generator.

In some electrosurgical operations, a dispersive pad is not needed because the electrode(s) on the end of the handpiece closes the circuit itself.

These types of operations are referred to as “bipolar” electrosurgery.

Electrosurgical forceps are an excellent example of a bipolar electrosurgical device.

With electrosurgical forceps, the current travels down one leg of the forceps, through the tissue, and over to the other leg of the forceps, where the current is sent back to the generator.

Though monopolar surgery is more commonly used due to its effectiveness, bipolar surgery is preferred with patients who have life-sustaining devices in their body that might fail if a current is passed through.


Additional resources.

Electrocautery, monopolar electrosurgery, and bipolar electrosurgery are all important parts of the overall electrosurgical market.

Though this blog post is intended to help explain some fundamental differences, we recommend working with an expert to develop your electrosurgical device.

If you want to learn more about what it takes to develop an interconnect-based device, download our free ebook.

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