The medical practice or technique of cauterization is the burning of part of a body to remove or close off a part of it in a process called cautery, which destroys some tissue, in an attempt to mitigate damage, remove an undesired growth, or minimize other potential medical harmful possibilities such as infections, when antibiotics are not available. The practice was once widespread for treatment of wounds. Its utility before the advent of antibiotics was effective on several levels:

  • useful in stopping severe blood-loss,
  • to close amputations,
  • useful in preventing infections, including complications from septicaemia.

Actual cautery is a term referring to the white-hot iron—a metal generally heated only up to a dull red glow—that is applied to produce blisters, to stop bleeding of a blood vessel, and other similar purposes. [1] The main forms of cauterization used today in the first world are electrocautery and chemical cautery—where both are, for example, prevalent in the removal of unsightly warts. Cautery can also mean the branding of a human, either recreational or forced. Accidental burns can be considered cauterization as well.


Cauterization was used to stop heavy bleeding, especially during amputations. The procedure was simple: a piece of metal was heated over fire and applied to the wound. This would cause tissues and blood to heat rapidly to extreme temperatures in turn causing coagulation of the blood thus controlling the bleeding, at the cost of extensive tissue damage.

Cautery is described in the Hippocratic Corpus. The cautery was employed for almost every possible purpose in ancient times: as a ‘counter-irritant’, as a haemostatic, as a bloodless knife, as a means of destroying tumours, etc. Later, special medical instruments called cauters were used to cauterize arteries. These were first described by Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis) in his Kitab al-Tasrif. Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi also introduced the technique of ligature of the arteries as an alternative to cauterization. This method was later improved and used more effectively by Ambroise Paré.


  1. Robinson, Victor, Ph.C., M.D. (editor) (1939). "Actual cautery". The Modern Home Physician, A New Encyclopedia of Medical Knowledge. WM. H. Wise & Company (New York)., page 16.


See also[]