Laparoscopic surgery

Laparoscopic surgery has become a common method for treating a variety of abdominal medical problems. To insert the laparoscopic version of the endoscope (an endoscope is an optical instrument that allows doctors to see inside the human body; also referred to as a fiberscope), doctors make tiny incisions instead of the usual large cuts across the surgical area. After the incisions are made, carbon dioxide is blown into the abdomen through the navel to make a space for small video cameras and scalpels to do the actual surgery. This technique dramatically reduces the amount of trauma to the patient's body tissues and shortens surgery and recovery times.

Early Laparoscopic Techniques

The laparoscopic technique was introduced in the 1960s by Raoul Palmer of the Broca Hospital in Paris, France, to help diagnose gynecological (sexual organ) problems in women. At first, Palmer had to use a bicycle pump to get air into the abdomen. He also had to use a regular laboratory scope rather than a video camera to see into the body.

Tiny Blades Make the Difference

It was not until 1986 that laparoscopy was used for actual surgery rather than just diagnosis. By this time, tiny remote-control scalpels had been developed that allowed doctors to use Palmer's techniques for surgical procedures. These small scalpels could be attached to the tip of the endoscope to manipulate tissue and draw samples for diagnosis and treatment.

The main disadvantages of such procedures are the cost, which is greater than for conventional surgery, and the temptation to perform surgery when other, more conservative, therapies might do just as well. There are also the risks associated of any kind of surgery, such as excessive bleeding, or patient reaction to anesthesia.

The Flexible Endoscope

An endoscope is a narrow, flexible tube containing several bundles of glass fibers that are covered with a reflective coating. An intense light source is used to transmit light along one bundle of fibers to the target, or surgical, area. Different types of endoscopes are specially designed for use in specific parts of the body. The angioscope passes through the arteries that carry blood to the heart; the arthroscope is used to explore the interior area of joints; the bronchoscope is used with a special dye and florescent light to detect lung growths; and the laparoscope is used for the diagnosis and treatment of abdominal conditions.

Although laparoscopy was received with skepticism by surgeons at first, it is now widely used in gynecology. It is also being adapted for other types of surgery, particularly for the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) system, and more recently, to treat certain cancers. In the future, laparoscopic techniques may be used so that a surgeon can perform an operation by remote control on a patient in another city or even country.

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