Investigating the role of capacitive coupling between the operating table and the return electrode of an electrosurgery unit in the modification of the current density distribution within the patients’ body


Background: Electrosurgery units are widely employed in modern surgery. Advances in technology have enhanced the safety of these devices, nevertheless, accidental burns are still regularly reported. This study focuses on possible causes of sacral burns as complication of the use of electrosurgery. Burns are caused by local densifications of the current, but the actual pathway of current within patient's body is unknown. Numerical electromagnetic analysis can help in understanding the issue. Methods: To this aim, an accurate heterogeneous model of human body (including seventy-seven different tissues), electrosurgery electrodes, operating table and mattress was build to resemble a typical surgery condition. The patient lays supine on the mattress with the active electrode placed onto the thorax and the return electrode on his back. Common operating frequencies of electrosurgery units were considered. Finite Difference Time Domain electromagnetic analysis was carried out to compute the spatial distribution of current density within the patient's body. A differential analysis by changing the electrical properties of the operating table from a conductor to an insulator was also performed. Results: Results revealed that distributed capacitive coupling between patient body and the conductive operating table offers an alternative path to the electrosurgery current. The patient's anatomy, the positioning and the different electromagnetic properties of tissues promote a densification of the current at the head and sacral region. In particular, high values of current density were located behind the sacral bone and beneath the skin. This did not occur in the case of non-conductive operating table. Conclusion: Results of the simulation highlight the role played from capacitive couplings between the return electrode and the conductive operating table. The concentration of current density may result in an undesired rise in temperature, originating burns in body region far from the electrodes. This outcome is concordant with the type of surgery-related sacral burns reported in literature. Such burns cannot be immediately detected after surgery, but appear later and can be confused with bedsores. In addition, the dosimetric analysis suggests that reducing the capacity coupling between the return electrode and the operating table can decrease or avoid this problem.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Health & Life Sciences
Additional Information: © 2013 Bifulco et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Uncontrolled Keywords: capacitive coupling,detailed human tissues 3D model,electrosurgery,Finite Difference Time Domain,operating table,electromagnetic analysis,FDTD,FDTD electromagnetic analysis,Biomedical Engineering,Radiological and Ultrasound Technology,Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging,Biomaterials
Full Text Link: http://www.biom ... /1/80/abstract#
http://www.scop ... tnerID=8YFLogxK
Related URLs: http://www.scop ... tnerID=8YFLogxK (Scopus URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2013-08-12
Authors: Bifulco, Paolo
Massa, Rita
Cesarelli, Mario
Romano, Maria
Fratini, Antonio (ORCID Profile 0000-0001-8894-461X)
Gargiulo, Gaetano D.
McEwan, Alistair L.



Version: Published Version

License: Creative Commons Attribution

Export / Share Citation


Additional statistics for this record