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Types of Surgery

There are a number of different types of surgery. People talk about surgery in different ways:

Length of stay for surgery

Day surgery takes place on the same day as the patient arriving and leaving the hospital (or surgical unit), meaning that the patient does not need to stay overnight. If you are having day surgery, you will probably be asked to prepare for the surgery beforehand (for example not eating or drinking after a certain time). Suitability for day case surgery not only depends on the operation but also on the fitness of the patient and the patient's social circumstances. Further information may be obtained from the British Association of Day Surgery.

If you are not told your surgery will be day surgery, it probably means you will need to stay in hospital. Do ask the question of whether you will need to stay overnight and for how long.

Planned or unplanned surgery

Elective surgery is the term for operations planned in advance.

Emergency surgery is the term used for operations that require immediate admission to hospital, usually through the accident and emergency department. Emergency surgery is usually performed within 24 hours and may be done immediately or during the night for serious or life-threatening conditions.

Types of surgical procedure

Open surgery is the most common type of surgery and characterised by the staples or stiches used to close the incision.

Keyhole surgery is done through very small incisions in a patient's skin with the use of a fine tube with a light on the end (known as a fibre optic light source). The surgeon carries out the operation by using special instruments inserted through the tube. Keyhole surgery causes less pain and trauma for the patient than open surgery, and it is used for an increasing number of conditions.

Laparoscopic surgery is similar to keyhole surgery but refers especially to operations performed inside the abdomen and in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdomen).

Further information about keyhole surgery may be obtained from the Association of Laparoscopic Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland.

Microsurgery procedures use powerful magnifying devices, and delicate and extremely small instruments to operate on tiny structures such as small arteries, nerves, the bones of the ear or inside the eye.

Cosmetic surgery

Cosmetic surgery is where a person chooses to have an operation, or invasive medical procedure, to change their physical appearance for cosmetic rather than medical reasons. It is rarely available through the NHS, primarily taking place in the private sector. There must be overriding physical or psychological reasons for considering it as a treatment option on the NHS. Read our cosmetic surgery patient FAQ.

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