Fulguration is a type of electrosurgery. In electrosurgery, healthcare providers use tools to direct high-frequency electrical currents from an electrosurgical generator to electrodes on your skin. In fulguration, healthcare providers create a spark between the tool and electrodes on your skin.
Fulguration (electrofulguration and/or electrocoagulation) is a type of electrosurgery. Electrosurgery operates on an ancient principle: Heat can heal.
Electrosurgery works by turning up the heat on abnormal cells. In electrosurgery, high-frequency electrical currents from an electrosurgical generator flow through your skin toward specific cells that might have formed benign or cancerous tumors.
Since skin doesn’t conduct electrical energy, the electrical currents continuously raise the cells’ internal temperature. Target cells die instantaneously when the cells’ internal temperature hits 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). Cells dry out once their internal temperature increases to 194 degrees Fahrenheit (99 degrees Celsius.) And cells vaporize when their internal temperature reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius).
To perform electrosurgery, healthcare providers use a special tool to send electric currents through your body toward the target cells. You’re given anesthesia before the procedure so you won’t feel the electrical currents or the heat they generate.
Fulguration works on the same principle as electrosurgery. The difference is healthcare providers don’t make a direct connection between the electrical current and your skin. Instead, they hold the probe over your skin to create a spark to generate enough heat to kill the targeted cells.
Sometimes, healthcare providers target growths with tiny wire loops carrying electrical currents. The loop generates heat to remove the growths and stop bleeding.
There are several types of electrosurgery, including:
Fulguration and other electrosurgery use electrical currents to remove or destroy abnormal cells. Cryoablation freezes cells with extremely cold gas.
Ablation therapy uses microwaves, high-energy radiofrequency, lasers or cryoablation to remove or destroy abnormal cells. In ablation therapy, healthcare providers deliver treatment through thin probes inserted through your skin. Fulguration delivers heat through electrical currents without inserting a probe into your skin.
Cystoscopic fulguration is one way of treating urinary tract problems. Healthcare providers use a scope to view the inside of your bladder and urethra. Then they use fulguration to treat the problem.
Healthcare providers use fulguration to destroy abnormal cells or growths on your skin or inside of your body. The growths can be benign, like the growths that cause endometriosis or condyloma (genital warts). They can be pre-cancerous, like actinic keratosis, which can become squamous cell carcinoma, or cancerous. Here are some examples of how providers use fulguration.
Here’s what your fulguration procedure might entail:
Fulguration plays different roles to diagnose and treat bladder conditions, including bladder cancer, and cervical pre-cancer and cancer.
In bladder surgery, healthcare providers use fulguration after they’ve removed tissue for examination. You’ll receive anesthesia before this procedure.
Healthcare providers use a rigid instrument called a resectoscope to access your bladder and remove tumors without making incisions. The resectoscope has a tiny wire loop that can carry electrical currents. Providers use the loop to surgically remove your tumor and burn the tumor site, destroying any remaining cancer cells and preventing bleeding.
Healthcare providers use fulguration to remove abnormal cells in your cervix. Cervical surgery typically involves gently inserting a speculum into your vagina so your provider can see your cervix. After injecting or placing a numbing medication on your cervix, your healthcare provider uses the speculum to guide a loop made of thin, electrically charged wire to your cervix. The loop is passed over the cervix, cutting a thin layer of tissue containing abnormal cells.
Fulguration is used differently depending on the specific medical need. Fulguration typically involves anesthesia, though. Like any surgery that involves anesthesia, you’ll need some time to recover before leaving your healthcare provider’s office or healthcare facility. Your provider will tell you what to expect and what to do during your recovery.
Fulguration is a minimally invasive surgery that treats medical conditions without requiring healthcare providers to make large incisions or cuts in your body.
Electrosurgery, including fulguration, carries several specific risks. Healthcare providers who use fulguration complete specific training focused on reducing potential risks. Risks include:
Fulguration is used for different procedures, from removing skin cancers to removing benign growths from your cervix to removing cancerous tumors from your bladder. Each procedure has different recovery times. Before your procedure, ask your healthcare provider what to expect after your procedure.
You should contact your provider any time you have the following symptoms:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Using electricity as medical treatment might sound like science fiction. But electrosurgery has been used for centuries. Fulguration is a medical mainstay that dates back to the early 1900s. Healthcare providers of that time named the process after the Latin term for lightning because fulguration creates sparks to generate healing heat that destroys abnormal cells in your body and helps stop bleeding.
Healthcare providers understand and place a priority on safe ways to use fulguration and other electrosurgery. If your healthcare provider recommends fulguration, ask them for procedure details so you understand how electrosurgery can power your medical treatment.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/17/2021.
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