Informed patients are the best type of patients – they are usually the happiest with their tummy tuck results when carefully research their procedure and have an idea of what to expect. Part of this research includes tummy tuck candidates exploring the risks, in addition to the benefits. Though the risk of complications during and after tummy tuck surgery is small, it’s still important to consider all possibilities, including an unfavorable outcome.
Rare, but serious, tummy tuck complications include:
- Bad reaction to anesthesia
- Blood clots in the legs
- Blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolism)
- Slow healing
- Respiratory complications
- Heart complications
The best way to decrease your risk of complications is to have your surgery performed by a qualified and experienced plastic surgeon, and follow all pre- and post-operative guidelines. Your surgeon can foresee potential complications and take steps to lessen the possibility of these occurring.
Bad Reaction to Anesthesia
General anesthesia, used during abdominoplasty surgeries, is considered slightly more risky than local anesthesia. It can cause an unpleasant or unexpected reaction; however, a qualified anesthesiologist should be able to identify emerging problems before they become worse.
Blood clotting is the body’s natural way of controlling the amount of blood that is lost after an injury, but depending on their location, they can be dangerous. If a blood clot forms inside a blood vessel, it may complicate your circulation. If a blood clot travels to your lungs, brain, or heart, the result can be deadly.
Decreasing Your Risk of Blood Clots
There are several things you can do to decrease the risk of blood clots, prior to surgery. First, be completely honest in your medical history and other information you provide to your doctor. Be sure to give your doctor a list of all medications you take prior to the surgery. This will help your doctor determine if you are at an increased risk of developing blood clots following surgery. If you take birth control pills, you may want to discontinue their use during the preparation and recovery from tummy tuck surgery - talk to your doctor about this possibility before doing so.
After surgery, and during your recovery, most surgeons advise using compression stockings, pre- or post-operative leg massage, and short walks within a day or two of your surgery. Gentle movement is helpful and will speed your recovery, but too much exertion or vigorous activity can be detrimental.
Tummy tuck patients are at risk of developing an infection during and immediately following their surgery. A clean, sterile, and relatively warm operating room lessens the risk of contracting an infection during the surgery. Contrary to popular opinion, a patient in a cold operating room is actually more likely to experience an infection than a patient in a room-temperature or slightly warm operating room.
After surgery, the risk of infection increases if the surgical wound is not properly cared for. Your surgeon will have specific instructions for removing/changing bandages, exposing your wound to water, and keeping it clean. Note that it is normal to have some bleeding and leakage after surgery, but if the surgical wound is unclean, the risk of infection rises. Most infections following tummy tuck surgery are the result of the patient’s failure to properly care for their surgical wound during their recovery.
Signs of an infection include:
- Pus around the incision area
- A greenish tint to the liquid draining from your incision
- Excessively steady drainage fluid
While an infection will prolong your tummy tuck recovery, they are treatable with increased drainage and antibiotics.
Tummy Tuck Drains
Most tummy tuck patients need drains after their procedure. The drains decrease the risk of seroma formation (i.e., fluid collecting between the muscle layer and the skin flap), which can cause infection. The drains create a point of exit for this fluid, reducing the risk of infection following tummy tuck surgery.
The drains are silicone tubes inserted into the abdomen through the tummy tuck incision or one or more specially made incisions. The tubes connect to bulbs that provide suction for excess fluid that accumulates during your recovery from surgery. The patient measures the drainage each day, keeping track of the amount and discarding it. The drains may be removed in as little as three to five days after surgery, though your surgeon may advise you keep them in for up to three weeks or more, depending on the amount of fluid that is draining. Some patients claim tummy tuck drains can be inconvenient, but physicians find them worth the inconvenience because they decrease the risk of infection.
Each patient will heal at his or her own pace. That being said, young patients in good physical condition typically heal faster than older or less physically fit patients. Tenderness, bruising, pain, and swelling usually subside after about four to six weeks. Patients who experience significant discomfort after six weeks have passed are considered to be healing slowly.
The healing of the abdomen may proceed at different rates; the operation site may heal later than the outlining sections of the surgical wound. In rare cases, irregular healing may lead to skin loss. Areas of skin that are slow to heal may die and need to be surgically removed and replaced with a graft. Should a patient experience these complications, they may suffer more prominent scarring. Patients who are unhappy with their tummy tuck surgery results because of slow healing may consider surgical revision.
Factors that may slow the body’s healing process are:
- Smoking or exposure to cigarette smoke - decreases the size of blood vessels, complicating circulation of oxygen to the skin cells
- Infection – diverts the body’s immune resources away from closing the incisions
Visit the DocShop gallery to view abdominoplasty before and after photos.
Photo credit: Kovanda Plastic Surgery
Reducing the Risk of Tummy Tuck Complications
Most tummy tuck surgeries go off without a hitch; when performed by an experienced plastic surgeon, the procedure is usually safe and free of complications. Here are some guidelines for reducing your risk of complications:
- Follow all of your doctor’s pre- and post-operative instructions
- If you are a smoker, stop smoking two weeks prior to the surgery
- Do not smoke again until at least two weeks after your surgery to avoid stunting your healing
- Avoid an overly stringent diet
- Avoid overexposure of the sun to the belly area
- Rest and nourish your body prior to surgery – eat a healthy, balanced diet and get plenty of sleep
- If you feel sick on the day of your surgery, tell your doctor about your symptoms
Learn More about Tummy Tuck Risks
As with any surgery, a tummy tuck, or abdominoplasty procedure involves risks. It is important for patients to be fully informed about both the risks and the benefits before undergoing abdominoplasty. To learn more about tummy tuck drains and other techniques used to decrease the risk of developing complications after a tummy tuck procedure, use DocShop to find a qualified abdominoplasty surgeon in your area and schedule a consultation.