Most Dangerous Surgeries in the World

Most surgical procedures can be broken into two basic categories: elective or emergent. Emergent surgeries are required immediately to save the life of the patient whereas elective surgeries can wait until another time if necessary.

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Some causes of complications include anesthesia errors, systemic infection (i.e., sepsis—the body’s overwhelming response to an infection), bad reactions to medications, and, of course, surgical errors.

Today’s infographic provides some statistics on surgery-related fatalities around the world. It also includes a list of the most dangerous surgeries in the world based on risk level. Although all surgery carries risks for patients, some are simply riskier than others.

Most surgeries are dangerous enough that the patient could die on the operating table, but some are considered much riskier than others. The World Health Organization (WHO) has compiled a list of five surgical procedures that have unprecedented risks.

These operations are uniquely dangerous due to their inherent difficulty, size and scope. They also frequently deal with parts of the body where blood loss can cause death quickly.

Blood loss is what makes these types of surgery so deadly; it can be difficult to stop bleeding if many small veins or arteries are severed during an operation.


1) Cardiac Surgery

Heart valve replacement and coronary artery bypass grafts involve general anesthesia and relatively long surgeries in which there is a lot of blood loss. Between 1 in 50 and 1 in 100 patients do not make it through the procedure.

2) Colectomy

Removal of the colon or another name is colectomy which has a mortality rate of 3% (3/1000). This surgery removes all or part of the colon to treat rectal cancer, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

However, it carries the risk of death during and after surgery because the risks involved in this type of surgery are different from other types.

For example, there may be an increase in intra-abdominal pressure which affects blood pressure; also there may be hypovolemia (blood loss) when the large intestine is cut requiring immediate fluid replacement.

There are also cases when a patient suffers a heart attack or stroke due to complications like hypertension, hypercoagulability, thromboembolism, and diabetes.

3) Aneurysm Repair Surgery

This life-saving procedure is complicated by the fact that there are many potential weak spots in every artery wall, so doctors have to conduct extensive testing before they attempt to repair any damage. Patients with head trauma, a history of stroke or patients who smoke all have higher risks.

Between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 patients die during the procedure.

4) Cervical Spine Surgery

The spinal cord is extremely delicate, so any surgery that goes near it has to be done with great care. Most surgeries involving the lower half of the spine are considered dangerous, but cervical spine surgery (surgery on the neck) has even greater risks due to the smaller size of the structures involved.

Patients must also remain completely still throughout surgery because movement could cause paralysis or death. Between 1 in 80 and 1 in 100 patients die during their procedures.

5) Small-Bowel Resection/Anastomosis Surgery

The small intestine is a complicated organ, and it can be difficult to repair damage due to the long length of the intestines. When a patient has part of his or her intestine removed, doctors have to reconnect the remaining sections—a procedure called an anastomosis.

Between 1 in 80 and 1 in 100 patients die during these surgeries.

6. Oesophagectomy

Oesophagectomy or the removal of the esophagus is one of the deadliest surgeries in the world since there is only a 1.3% chance that a patient may live after such an operation. The mortality rate per 1,000 for this surgery is 27.2 (27%).

This procedure involves removing cancerous tumours and organs around the oesophagus to prevent the further spread of cancer cells to other vital body parts like lungs and livers.

Oesophagectomy was first introduced by William Stewart Halsted, a surgeon from the USA, in 1882. Although it has been reported that successful cases were seen with minimal complication rates and minimal post-surgery complication, still it remains one of the deadliest surgeries in the world.

The world of surgery is filled with both triumphs and tragedies.  The medical advancements in this field over the last century are nothing short of miraculous; but, like all miracles, they come at a cost. Surgery brings with it inherent risks to patients.

Though most surgeries produce good results for the patient, some result in death more often than others. So, those are some of the most dangerous surgeries

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