Health & Wellness

The Role of Acute Surgical Care Specialists in Your Recovery

acute surgical care specialists

Did you know that surgeons worldwide perform over 200 million surgeries yearly? While many of these are elective, others are health care necessities, even emergencies.

Emergency or urgent surgeries include procedures for potentially life-threatening conditions. Failure to perform them promptly can lead to the condition progressing or worsening. Even worse, it may result in patient death.

Acute surgical care specialists are the doctors who perform emergency or urgent surgeries. They’re general surgeons, too, but they have extra qualifications to administer emergency surgeries. They also specialize in critical medical care.

But what exactly do acute surgical and medical care providers do? How can they help patients recover?

This guide discusses everything you need to know about these specialists, so read on. 

Timely Surgical Assessment

How long you recover from an injury or illness depends on how soon you receive treatment. The sooner you get treated, the better, as this helps reduce the risk of your condition worsening.

Acute surgical care specialists can help through immediate assessment of your condition. They will work together with the rest of your medical team.

For example, suppose you have a tumor in your pancreas. In this case, a surgeon specializing in cancer treatment may schedule surgery. The cancer specialist (oncologist) may perform the procedure a few days or weeks later.

However, you may need emergency surgery if you have a severe pancreas infection. Your oncologist will call on the help of an acute surgical care specialist.

The acute surgeon will then perform the emergency procedure. They may have to eliminate dead tissue and fluid buildup before the tumor’s removal.

So if not for an acute care surgeon’s expertise, more complications from the tumor may arise. If this happens, you may require even more intensive surgeries. They can help prevent this with their prompt assessment and intervention. 

Emergency Treatment for Life-Threatening Conditions

Emergency surgeries treat conditions that may threaten a person’s life. At the very least, they can cause chronic or permanent bodily function disruptions.

The following are examples of life-threatening conditions acute surgical care specialists can treat. 

Heart Attack

A heart attack happens to one person in the United States every 40 seconds. It occurs when part of the heart muscle doesn’t receive enough blood. The longer this goes on, the more severe the damage to the heart.

Thus, failure to treat a heart attack immediately can lead to permanent heart damage. It may even cause death.

Fortunately, acute surgical care specialists can help by performing emergency heart surgery. This may include coronary artery bypass grafting (open-heart or bypass surgery). This emergency treatment can restore blood flow to the affected heart muscle ASAP. 


As many as 795,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke yearly, of which about 17% die. Most are first strokes. Of those who survive, nearly 1 in 4 are at a higher risk of getting another stroke within five years.

Strokes, due to their fatal consequences, are true emergencies. Medications are the most common treatment, but surgery can sometimes help. An acute care surgeon can perform a craniectomy as an emergency life-saving measure. 

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

Another life-threatening condition that may require emergency treatment is acute respiratory distress syndrome. It prevents adequate oxygen from getting to the lungs and the blood. If not treated promptly, it can cause permanent lung damage and failure of other organs.

Acute care surgeons can help ARDS patients recover through medicines and lung surgery. The latter often involves removing fluid buildup in the lungs. 

Life-Threatening Airway Obstruction

An airway obstruction, or choking, is a blockage of the upper airways. It can be due to food or other objects that prevent someone from breathing effectively. Sometimes, it may only cause a coughing fit, but if it’s a complete blockage, it can lead to death.

Complete airway obstruction is a true medical emergency that requires fast action. Acute care surgeons can help patients recover through emergency needle cricothyrotomy (airway puncture). It involves placing a hollow needle into the throat’s airway. 

Appendicitis or Ruptured Appendix

Appendicitis is the medical term for an inflamed or infected appendix. It’s a medical emergency since an inflamed appendix can burst and be life-threatening.

There are two types of appendicitis: acute and chronic. Acute appendicitis is more common, affecting about 5% of the U.S. population. Chronic appendicitis is rare, occurring in only about 1% of Americans.

Failure to treat appendicitis can result in the appendix rupturing and causing peritonitis. Peritonitis is a severe infection caused by spreading bacteria from the burst appendix. If it contaminates the bloodstream, it can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening condition.

Acute surgical care specialists can help by first diagnosing if you have appendicitis. If so, their next step is likely to remove the inflamed appendix through an appendectomy. They can do this through a minimally invasive method like laparoscopic surgery.

If your appendix has already burst, the specialist will still likely remove it. However, they may first drain any abscess before doing so. They’ll also prescribe antibiotics to help clear the infection. 

Severe Burns

Severe burns include second-degree burns wider than 2 to 3 inches. These injuries affect the skin’s outer and underlying layers. They cause pain, inflammation, blistering, and redness.

Third-degree burns affect the deepest layers of the skin. Therefore, they all classify as severe burns, regardless of their size.

Third-degree burns cause the affected skin to turn numb, white, black, or charred. They can also damage the nerves.

Severe burns require emergency acute surgical care and treatment. This can help cut the risk of deformity, disability, and scarring.

Rib Fractures

Many people suffer from broken ribs after they get into a car or a sporting accident. Another common cause is a fall, especially among older adults. In the U.S., as many as 36 million falls occur among the elderly population alone.

Rib fractures require emergency care due to their link with cardiorespiratory system injuries. For example, a broken rib may pierce blood vessels, including the aorta. It may also puncture the lung, spleen, liver, or kidneys.

Even if the broken rib doesn’t cause complications, it can still be painful. It can cause so much pain that even just breathing can be difficult.

If you’ve been in such an accident, visit an acute care surgeon ASAP. This is even more vital if you feel pressure on your chest or pain while taking deep breaths. 

Post-Surgery Care and Rehab

Depending on your surgery, you may have to undergo one or more types of rehabilitation after. An example is sub acute rehab (SAR). It’s often an in-patient care program licensed therapists and nursing staff provide.

The primary function of SAR is to improve your functioning after surgery. It may use or combine physical, occupational, and speech therapies.

The goal of SAR therapies may be to:

  • Provide continuing tracheostomy care for ARDS
  • Deliver respiratory therapy and pulmonary care
  • Improve your balance or safety when walking
  • Make the legs or arms move again after a heart attack or stroke
  • Improve your heart health after a heart attack

Acute surgical care specialists, in this case, may be directly or indirectly involved.

For example, if you need to stay in a SAR facility, the specialist may visit you there. They’d want to ensure you’re getting proper care and treatment. They may also recommend SAR facilities to you or your family. 

Monitor Your Recovery Progress

Surgical wounds heal in three phases: swelling, rebuilding, and remodeling. The larger the treated area, the bigger the incision and the longer it may take to recover.

Swelling, often accompanied by redness, typically lasts up to 6 days. Rebuilding, or scarring, can start while the wound’s still swollen, sometimes on day 4, and can last up to a month. Remodeling is when the incision has filled in, occurring 6 to 24 months after the procedure.

Since complete recovery can take months to years, acute care surgeons must track it. This way, they can ensure the procedure hasn’t caused complications like infections. They must also check for abnormal scarring, which can become permanent.

You should also note that pain will occur during the swelling and rebuilding. It may feel like sharp, stabbing, or shooting sensations in the treated area. It should become less frequent and intense over time, though.

Your acute care surgeon will likely prescribe pain-relieving medications to help. Take these as directed to help manage the unpleasant sensations as you recover. 

Acute Surgical Care Specialists to the Rescue

And there you have it, the most vital facts about acute surgical care specialists you must know about. Now you know they do more than help patients recover; they save lives in the first place. So if you have a medical emergency, please don’t delay visiting an acute care surgeon.

Ready to learn more about surgical procedures? Then check out our guide on minimally invasive cardiac surgeries! 

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Editorial Director
I'm Shruti Mishra, Editorial Director @Newsblare Media, growing up in the bustling city of New Delhi, I was always fascinated by the power of words. This love for words and storytelling led me to pursue a career in journalism. In this position, I oversee the editorial team and plan out content strategies for our digital news platform. I am constantly seeking new ways to engage readers with thought-provoking and impactful stories.

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