Elective surgery

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Elective surgery or elective procedure (from the Latin eligere, meaning to choose[1]) is surgery that is scheduled in advance because it does not involve a medical emergency. Semi-elective surgery is a surgery that must be done to preserve the patient's life, but does not need to be performed immediately.

By contrast, an urgent surgery is one that can wait until the patient is medically stable, but should generally be done today or tomorrow, and an emergency surgery is one that must be performed without delay; the patient has no choice other than immediate surgery, if they do not want to risk permanent disability or death.[2]

Most surgeries are elective.


Many medically necessary surgeries are elective surgeries. For example, inguinal hernia surgery, cataract surgery, mastectomy for breast cancer, and the donation of a kidney by a living donor are performed as elective surgeries.

Elective surgeries include all optional surgeries performed for non-medical reasons, i.e., cosmetic surgery. They also include most surgeries necessary for medical reasons.

Cosmetic surgery, such as a facelift or the placement of breast implants, is typically performed to subjectively improve a patient's physical appearance. Cosmetic and aesthetic surgeries are elective surgeries pre-scheduled at a time that is mutually convenient for the patient, the surgeon, and the medical facility.


Preoperative carbohydrates may decrease amount of time spent in hospital recovering.[3]

Increasing urgency

When a condition is worsening, but has not yet reached the point of a true emergency, surgeons speak of semi-elective surgery: the peccant part must be dealt with, but a delay is not expected to affect the outcome.

In a patient with multiple medical conditions, problems classified as needing semi-elective surgeries may be postponed until emergent conditions have been addressed and the patient is medically stable. For example, whenever possible, pregnant women typically postpone all elective and semi-elective procedures until after giving birth. In some situations, an urgently needed surgery will be postponed briefly to permit even more urgent conditions to be addressed. In other situations, emergency surgery may be performed at the same time as life-saving resuscitation efforts.

Semi-elective procedures are typically scheduled within a time frame deemed appropriate for the patient's condition and disease. Removal of a malignancy, for example, is usually scheduled as semi-elective surgery, to be performed within a set number of days or weeks. Urgent surgery is typically performed with 48 hours of diagnosis. Emergency surgery is performed as soon as a surgeon is available.

Many surgeries can be performed as either elective or emergency surgeries, depending on the patient's needs. A sudden worsening of gallbladder disease may require immediate removal of the gallbladder by emergency surgery, but this surgery is more commonly scheduled in advance.


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  • C. Parchment-Smith (2006). Essential Revision Notes for Intercollegiate MRCS: Bk. 1. Knutsford, Cheshire, UK: PasTest, LLC. p. 439. ISBN 1-904627-36-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>