The branch of medicine in which disorders and injuries are treated by operation, usually with the patient in a state of anaesthesia. Amputations and some elementary surgical operations have been performed since ancient times in Egypt, Greece, India, and China; the skills required were transmitted by Arab surgeons to Europe, where they were mostly practised in monasteries. Blood-letting—regarded as an antidote for most ailments—was widely practised. In England, however, in the 12th century, monks were forbidden to perform surgery and the practice passed to barbers until 1540. The two arts were then separated, although they continued to be controlled by the Company of Barbers and Surgeons until 1745. In this year the Company of Surgeons was formed, which became the Royal College of Surgeons in 1800.
The 19th century saw the foundation of modern surgery, with the introduction of anaesthetics, Lister's discovery of antisepsis, and a greater knowledge of anatomy and physiology. In the 20th century the advent of antibiotics has made surgery safe from infection, the use of blood transfusions, intravenous drips, and electrolyte control have overcome problems of shock, and better knowledge of anaesthetics and relaxant drugs has made surgery a less hurried procedure. Moreover, specialization (e.g. gastrointestinal surgery, neurosurgery, ophthalmological surgery) and great ingenuity in the design of surgical instruments have made surgery an extremely safe and usually successful procedure.
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