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Tummy Tuck, Body

What are the Potential Risks Involved with Tummy Tuck Surgery?

If you're considering trimming down your midsection, you're certainly not the only one. 72% of women report feeling self-conscious about the appearance of their stomachs. The overall goal of abdominoplasty, or a tummy tuck, is to achieve a flatter and firmer tummy. This procedure works to remove the loose skin, stretch marks, and "bulging" from pregnancy, weight loss or aging.

Loose skin can be unsightly, and interfere with the ability to wear form-fitting clothing. Tummy tuck surgery can restore a youthful, firm stomach; and allow patients to eliminate their muffin top and feel comfortable in a fitted dress, swimsuit, or bikini.

Patients nationwide are increasingly opting for abdominoplasty, defined as a surgery that "tightens the muscles and removes loose skin and fat from the abdomen." The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) reports that tummy tuck procedures have increased 87% since 2000.

If you're hesitant to proceed with a tummy tuck due to fear of risks, you'll be relieved to know the operation is likely safer than you think. In this blog, you'll learn about the risks of tummy tuck surgery, safety factors, and how to ensure you have the best possible surgical outcomes.

Is Tummy Tuck Surgery Safe?

For patients with loose skin and muscles, a tummy tuck is typically the only way to obtain a flat and firm abdomen. Liposuction procedures will only reduce excessive fatty tissue. They do not address loose skin, or the loose or separated muscles common after having children. In contrast, a tummy tuck coupled with liposuction will address excess skin and fat, and tighten loose muscles.

All surgical procedures carry some risk. A tummy tuck is generally considered safe, if properly-selected patients undergo treatment with a qualified plastic surgeon in an accredited surgery facility. The safety of tummy tuck procedures has been extensively reviewed.

In the U.S., the rate of significant complications is as low as 4%.

Patients who are considered high-risk due to age, obesity, or other factors may have a higher rate of complications. Here are a few risks a qualified plastic surgeon will review with you prior to surgery:

1. Hematoma or seroma

The most common tummy tuck complication is hematoma or seroma, defined as an accumulation of blood or fluid under the skin. If a hematoma or seroma occur, additional treatment including a drainage procedure may be needed.

2. Infection

All surgical procedures carry a small risk of infection. The risk of infection after a tummy tuck is 1% or less. Infection may require additional treatment including antibiotics and/or a drainage procedure.

3. Scarring

Scarring is an expected side effect of tummy tuck surgery. Typically, surgeons work to create incisions low on the torso with the bikini line so they can be hidden by an undergarment or swimsuit. However, the exact placement and extent of scars vary slightly from patient-to-patient depending on your anatomy and individual needs.

4. Adverse reaction to anesthesia

A tummy tuck procedure is usually performed under general anesthesia ("full" anesthesia). General anesthesia overall is considered very safe.

Modern anesthesia has never been safer when performed by a board certified anesthesiologist in a fully accredited surgery facility. It is important to undergo a thorough premedical evaluation before surgery. During surgery, your anesthesia will be extensively monitored to ensure your safety and comfort.

Some patients are worried about not waking up from anesthesia. Rest assured, the chance of not waking up from anesthesia is extremely low. According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the risk of not waking up from anesthesia is about 1 in 250,000, which is about four times safer than the risk of getting hit by a car walking across the street!

Some patients are also worried about waking up during surgery and being aware of surgery or experiencing pain. The risk of waking up during surgery is also extremely low, about 1 in 10,000.

The most common risks of general anesthesia include temporary nausea and vomiting (up to 30% of patients), sore throat, confusion, muscle aches, itching, hypothermia, and damage to teeth.

Patients who are in overall good health, including a healthy weight range, non-smoker, and no heart conditions, are generally at low risk for an adverse reaction to anesthesia. Conditions that may increase the risk of your surgery and anesthesia include smoking, seizures, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart, lung, or kidney disease, use of medications that increase risk of bleeding, history of heavy alcohol use, drug allergies, and a history of allergic reactions to anesthesia.

5. Delayed healing

The average patient can expect to spend approximately four weeks after surgery in recovery, which will include around 2-4 weeks away from work. However, some patients report pain, swelling, delayed wound healing, or other issues that last longer than the 4-week period.

6. Tissue loss

Tissue necrosis, or dead tissue, is a relatively rare complication of tummy tuck surgery that is caused by a lack of blood flow to healing tissues. Minor necrosis can be treated with dressings or other non-surgical techniques. Severe necrosis may require follow-up operations. Individuals who do not smoke and who have no heart or blood vessel disease very rarely experience tissue loss.

7. Altered sensation

Many patients experience altered sensation in the area where surgery was performed for weeks or months after the operation. While tummy tuck patients should regain normal sensation in their abdomen as healing progresses, some patients may experience lingering numbness or reduced sensation over time. Some patients report a small area of lasting numbness after tummy tuck surgery below the belly button. This numbness is almost never a significant concern for patients after surgery. If your sensation restoration does not progress normally, it is important to inform your surgeon.

8. Damage to underlying structures

For patients who opt for a full tummy tuck, the surgeon may tighten the muscular tissue of the stomach. While it is exceedingly rare for patients who seek treatment from a qualified plastic surgeon, damage to muscle or underlying organ tissue can occasionally occur.

9. Blood clots

Developing blood clots in the legs or lungs are a very rare but potentially very serious complication for patients undergoing any kind of operation including tummy tuck surgery. The general risk of developing a blood clot after tummy tuck surgery is about 2 in 10,000. Patients at increased risk for developing blood clots including age over 40, use of birth control pills, previous personal or family history of blood clots, obesity, and smoking. Your surgeon will take precautionary measures during surgery to minimize the risk of developing blood clots. It will also be important for you to walk early after surgery to improve circulation.

10. Fat embolism

An embolism is a serious condition that most often occurs following long bone fractures. It can also occur very rarely with liposuction, tummy tucks, and other surgeries that loosen pockets of fat. The risk of fat embolism after tummy tuck is thought to be less than 1 in 10,000.

If pieces of fat are caught in the blood vessels or lungs, the results can be serious or even fatal. Your surgeon will review individual risk factors and warning signs prior to surgery.

11. Contour irregularity

In some patients, the results of tummy tuck surgery may not be perfectly smooth or symmetrical, resulting in contour irregularity.

12. Allergic reactions

Patients may experience allergic reactions to medications or surgical materials, such as antibiotics, pain medication, latex, or other materials. To reduce your risk of an allergic reaction during surgery or recovery, your surgeon will review your medical history.

13. Unsatisfactory results

Patients may experience unsatisfactory results, scarring, or asymmetry that necessitates a second surgery or surgical revision. Working with a highly experienced surgeon for your initial surgery will reduce your risk of needing a second operation.

Ultimately, tummy tuck surgery is a safe option for healthy patients. It's even safer when you choose a qualified and skillful plastic surgeon. If you're considering this operation, schedule a consultation with an experienced, reputable plastic surgeon to discuss possible benefits and risk factors. An experienced surgeon will be able to provide individual insight on your unique risk factors, and recommendations for the best possible outcome.

To schedule a complimentary consultation with the office of Dr. Larry Fan, please click here.

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About the Author

Dr. Larry Fan is a Harvard educated, Board Certified Plastic Surgeon in San Francisco, CA. He is a Master Artist who is known for creating beautiful, stunning, and natural results. Dr. Fan has been named One of America's Top Plastic Surgeons for the past 10 years running and has received several national awards for his work in Plastic Surgery. He has successfully performed more than 10,000 cosmetic procedures of the face, breasts, and body over a 20 year period. Dr Fan has been an invited speaker at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American College of Surgeons, and has been featured in national media outlets such as CNN, NBC, and ABC.

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