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Meta-analysis of the effectiveness of surgical scalpel or diathermy in making abdominal skin incisions.BACKGROUND: Surgical scalpels are traditionally used to make skin incisions. Diathermy incisions on contrary are less popular among the surgeons. The aim of this meta-analysis was to compare the effectiveness of both techniques and address the common fallacies about diathermy incisions. METHODS: A literature search of MEDLINE and Cochrane databases was done, using the keywords diathermy, cold scalpel, and incisions. Eleven clinical trials comparing both methods of making skin incisions were selected for meta-analysis. The end points compared included postoperative wound infection, pain in first 24 hours after surgery, time taken to complete the incisions, and incision-related blood loss. RESULTS: Postoperative wound infection rate was comparable in both techniques (P = 0.147, odds ratio = 1.257 and 95% CI = 0.923-1.711). Postoperative pain was significantly less with diathermy incisions in first 24 hours (P = 0.031, weighted mean difference = 0.852 and 95% CI = 0.076-1.628). Similarly, the time taken to complete the incision and incision-related blood loss was significantly less with diathermy incisions (95% CI = 0.245-0.502 and 0.548-1.020, respectively). CONCLUSION: Diathermy incisions are equally prone to get wound infection, as do the incisions made with scalpel. Furthermore, lower incidence of early postoperative pain, swiftness of the technique, and a reduced blood loss are the encouraging facts supporting routine use of diathermy for abdominal skin incisions after taking careful precautions.