If you feel self-conscious about sagging skin on your upper arms, an arm lift, or brachioplasty, may be an excellent solution. During this body contouring procedure, your plastic surgeon will trim away excess, hanging skin and remove stubborn deposits of fat. Then he or she will pull your skin taut so that it conforms to the new contours of your arm. You will emerge from surgery looking fitter and more youthful, with arms that better complement the rest of your figure.
Arm lift surgery may be a good option if you have recently lost a lot of weight after bariatric surgery or due to diet and exercise. It can also be an effective way to treat signs of aging in your upper arms. There are several surgical techniques that can be used to perform the procedure, including a standard upper arm lift and a mini-arm lift. Your doctor will help you choose the right solution for you based on your cosmetic goals and the natural contours of your arms. No matter which type of arm lift you choose, the treatment can have a stunning impact on your overall appearance. Like many men and women, you may discover that even a subtle change in the appearance of your arms can make your entire body look noticeably younger and slimmer.
As with so many other plastic surgery procedures, you may choose to have arm lift surgery performed on its own or in conjunction with other procedures as part of a more comprehensive treatment plan. Many patients choose to combine arm lift with such procedures as thigh lift, breast lift, breast augmentation, abdominoplasty, facelift, neck lift, and brow lift.
Although there is no such thing as a “perfect” candidate for any plastic surgery procedure, there are certain traits that distinguish typical arm lift candidates.
If you have recently lost a great deal of weight through bariatric surgery or if pregnancy has caused you to gain and lose weight over time, you may be bothered by drooping, excess skin along your upper arms. If so, you may be an excellent candidate for an arm lift. However, you should be at a stable weight before undergoing the procedure. Additional weight loss could leave you with more sagging skin, negating the results of your treatment.
Adults of all ages may qualify for arm lift surgery. However, you will enjoy optimal results if you still have a good amount of skin elasticity. Additionally, you must be able to tolerate anesthesia. If you are over the age of 65, your doctor may require a few extra tests before approving your for arm lift surgery. Nevertheless, for healthy, approved patients, arm lift surgery typically involves very few risks.
To qualify for arm lift surgery, you should:
- Be in good health
- Be a non-smoker
- Have realistic expectations about the results of your surgery
Ultimately, the only way to determine your candidacy for brachioplasty is to schedule a consultation with your plastic surgeon.
According to the 2013 American Society of American Plastic Surgeons® report, the average physician fee for upper arm lift surgery was $3,729. However, additional fees, including the surgical facility, anesthesiologist, and medication, are not included in this estimated price.
Determining the Cost of Your Surgery
Of course, the full cost of an arm lift is different for each patient. The total for your procedure will depend on several different factors. These considerations include:
- The type of arm lift: The cost of your surgery will partially depend on the length and complexity of the procedure. Therefore, an upper arm lift will typically cost more than a mini arm lift.
- Where you live: Surgical costs vary across the country. Generally, the cost of your procedure will be higher if your area has an overall higher cost of living.
- Surgical facilities: Arm lifts are outpatient procedures that can take place at a hospital or a surgery center. In most cases, a procedure will cost more if it occurs at a hospital. However, because this facility can better ensure your safety in the unlikely event of an emergency, you may be willing to pay the higher costs. Some doctors have their own surgical facilities. These surgeons may not charge additional fees.
- Your doctor’s experience and reputation: In most cases, an experienced or renowned surgeon will charge more than an unseasoned or ill-reputed colleague. Remember, an arm lift is an investment in your appearance and future. It is important to select a doctor who will protect your safety and provide good aesthetic results, even if the fees are somewhat higher.
- Additional treatments: Like many patients, you may decide to have additional procedures at the same time as your arm lift. These other treatments will be priced separately.
Arm lifts are cosmetic procedures and are therefore not considered “medically necessary.” Therefore, most insurance plans do not cover the cost of treatment. Nevertheless, there are several financing options that may be able to help you cover the cost of your brachioplasty.
Many surgeons offer in-house financing and monthly repayment plans. In many cases, these could include fixed, low, or even no-interest plans. Additionally, some physicians may offer discounts if you fully pay for your surgery prior to treatment. Be sure to ask about these options at your initial consultation.
There are also a number of third-party lenders who can help you cover your cosmetic surgery. Often, banks and general financing companies can be a great option. Your doctor’s administrative team may be able to recommend some reliable financing institutions in your area. Additionally, there are a number of patient financing companies such as Compassionate Finance® that exist exclusively to help with elective and non-covered medical procedures. Again, your doctor’s office team can explain which policies they accept, and they can help you to find the right financing option for your needs.
How to Choose a Surgeon
An arm lift can offer tremendous benefits in terms of your appearance and self-confidence. Therefore, it is important to choose a qualified and experienced. There are several things you should look for when you are choosing a doctor. For further assistance, you can also use DocShop’s handy search tool to find a surgeon in your area.
Certification and Memberships
First, you should always choose a doctor who is certified by key medical institutions, including your state’s medical board. Certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery is also essential. To earn certification, the ABPS requires physicians to undergo three to five years of medical training, with two years dedicated specifically to plastic surgery. To maintain certification, doctors must also receive ongoing education and take exams every ten years. When you select an ABPS-certified doctor, you know you are being treated by someone who is highly trained and informed about the latest techniques and discoveries.
Other certifications and memberships indicate that a doctor has a high level of experience and that he or she follows proper safety and ethical protocol. You may want to choose a doctor who is:
- A member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons®
- A member of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery
- A faculty member of a medical school
- A published expert
- A recipient of national, regional, or local honors
- A participant in community outreach and charitable programs
It is also important to select a doctor who is highly experienced with arm lift surgery. Even if a surgeon enjoys an outstanding reputation for other plastic surgery procedures, he or she may not be a great choice for your brachioplasty. Look for a doctor who performs arm lifts on a regular basis.
Many fine doctors work in ambulatory surgical centers, and some have their own facilities. However, if you choose one of these physicians, you should make sure that he or she also has privileges at a local hospital. Arm lifts rarely pose complications, but all surgeries carry some risk. Hospital privileges ensure that you will have emergency treatment in the unlikely event that complications arise. Additionally, these privileges are indications of a doctor’s skill and reputation. Hospitals will only grant privileges to doctors who have a good reputation, maintain proper safety standards, and follow established ethical protocol.
Additionally, you should check out the status of a doctor’s operating facilities. Make sure it is accredited by the American Associations for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Centers. In this way, you can be sure that the facility and your doctor maintain all proper safety standards.
Past Results and Reputation
One of the most effective ways to find a surgeon is to ask friends or your primary care physician for recommendations. You can also use DocShop’s handy search tool to find several expert physicians in your area. Once you have narrowed down your search, you should visit each doctor in person. Ask to see galleries of his or her past work. As you look at the pictures, ask yourself if the results look natural and if you would be satisfied with a similar outcome. Make sure all images are well-lit and taken from several different angles.
You may also want to check doctors’ medical records before making your final choice. Each state is required to keep records of malpractice suits and complaints, and they must make this information available to the public. In many cases, you can view this information online, although in some areas, you may have to request paper copies through the mail.
How Well You Connect Personally
Finally, you should select a doctor with whom you feel comfortable. Arm lifts are extremely personalized procedures. Therefore, you should choose a surgeon who will tailor your treatment to meet your needs. Avoid doctors who pressure you to receive extra treatment, as well as surgeons who do not listen to your particular goals. Only through mutual collaboration will you achieve optimal results.
The Initial Consultation
After you have selected a surgeon, he or she will determine whether an arm lift is right for you. You will discuss your medical history, and you should bring a complete list of all current medications. Be completely honest about your health, as well as any tobacco or drug use. Smoking and certain medicines can inhibit healing and increase your risk for complications. In many cases, you may still be a good candidate for brachioplasty. However, your doctor may take certain precautions to protect your safety.
Planning Your Procedure
At your first appointment, you will also begin creating your unique treatment plan. Your doctor will examine your skin quality, the natural shape of your arm, and your overall body type. He or she will also take pictures and observe your arm as it moves. In this way, he or she can design a treatment that is completely tailored to you. Do not be afraid to ask questions so you can fully participate in the planning process. Among other things, you will discuss your goals for treatment, the type of arm lift you will receive, the type of anesthesia you will use, and your expected treatment outcome.
Arm Lift Techniques
Arm lift is a surgical procedure that can be performed using two techniques. The full upper arm lift involves an incision in the armpit and along the underside of the arm to the elbow. In the mini arm lift, the incision is made in the arm pit.
Upper Arm Lift
The upper arm lift can remove excess skin that droops from the upper arm. In most cases, this skin is a result of rapid weight loss or loss of skin elasticity due to the natural aging process.
To perform an upper arm lift, your surgeon will create an incision along your arm. The location and length of the incision will vary depending on the amount of skin you wish to have removed, as well as the location of the excess skin flap. In a standard brachioplasty, the incision will extend from your armpit to your elbow. Your doctor may create either a curved or z-shaped incision during the procedure to minimize the appearance of scarring after healing.
If you have severely lax skin, you may be a better candidate for an extended brachioplasty. In this surgery, your incision will stretch from your armpit and down along the side of your chest. With this longer incision, your doctor can remove the maximum amount of skin.
Mini Arm Lift
The mini arm lift may be an option if you only need minor revision to the skin on your upper arms. The procedure for mini arm lift is similar to that of a full arm lift; your surgeon will remove excess skin and fat to create a more pleasing shape. In a mini arm lift, however, the incision is much smaller. In most cases, the surgeon can place the incision in your armpit, where the scar will be barely visible.
The mini arm lift procedure is usually used for patients who have lost a moderate amount of weight due to diet and exercise, or for those who have developed some excess skin through aging. Most bariatric surgery patients will require traditional brachioplasty, as a mini arm lift cannot provide the drastic revision necessary after extreme weight loss.
Before the Procedure
Prior to undergoing surgery, patients should follow their surgeons’ instructions, which may include:
- Do not smoke for at least four weeks before surgery
- Stop taking blood-thinners three to four weeks before surgery
- Do not eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your surgery
- Do not wear jewelry, contact lenses, or make-up on the day of surgery
Preparing for Recovery
Arm lift surgery does require several weeks of recovery, so you should make plans ahead of time. Plan to take at least two weeks off from work, and arrange for help with childcare if you have small children. You should also arrange for a ride to and from the surgical facility.
Certain foods can enhance the healing process. To speed your recovery and to make things easier for yourself after your surgery, stock up on plenty of convenient and healthy foods. Fruit, vegetables, and lean proteins are especially important. It may help to make nutritious meals and freeze them to eat after your surgery.
Brachioplasty typically takes one to two hours. The procedure will vary slightly, depending on the type of surgery you are going to receive. However, standard, extended, and mini brachioplasty all follow the same basic steps.
Anesthesia, Incisions, and Tissue Removal
Before your arm lift, your doctor will administer sedation. The type of sedation you choose will depend on your health needs, personal preferences, and your doctor’s recommendation. In most cases, you will receive general anesthesia, and you will be completely asleep during your surgery. Some doctors may recommend IV sedation. These medications will induce a “twilight sleep.” Although you will technically be conscious, you will not fully be aware of what is going on. When the medication wears off, you will not typically remember anything about your procedure.
When you are sedated, your surgeon will mark the areas where the incisions will be located. As your doctor creates the incisions, he or she will work carefully so that the scars will be as discreet as possible. Then your doctor will trim away excess tissue. He or she may also perform liposuction to eliminate extra or displaced fat cells.
After your arm lift, you should expect to experience some inflammation and soreness. You will receive a prescription for pain medication to ease your discomfort. To reduce swelling, you should sit and sleep with your arms elevated. Be sure to change your bandages and clean your surgical drains, as instructed by your doctor. You will need to take sponge baths for the first few days. However, you can begin showering as soon as your drains come out. Be sure to pat your incisions dry before replacing your bandages.
Exercise and Physical Activity
In general, you should plan to take two to three weeks off of work and other obligations to recover from surgery. For the first week after your surgery, you should avoid exercise and heavy physical activity. However, light walking and moderate exercise is important, since it can stimulate healing and reduce your risk for blood clots. Typically, you can return to moderate physical activity about a month after your arm lift. In most cases, you should wait six weeks to resume running, heavy lifting, and similar activities. Your doctor will provide guidance as you return to your specific routine.
You will return to see your plastic surgeon about one week after surgery. At this time, he or she will remove sutures and bandages. About four weeks after your surgery, you will have another follow up, so your surgeon can check the results of your procedure. At each of these appointments, your doctor will provide guidance for your recovery. By following these directions precisely, you can ensure faster healing, reduced scarring, and overall good aesthetic results.
The arm lift procedure produces excellent results, as illustrated in these before and after photos. The results of surgery will be visible immediately after surgery. However, best results are typically seen two to three months after surgery, once all of the swelling has gone down. At this time, you should notice that your arms look significantly slimmer and more toned. Best of all, when you maintain a healthy, stable weight, the results of your arm lift could last the rest of your life. It is important to note, however, that your skin will lose some elasticity as your get older.
Keep in mind that a full arm lift is impossible to do without leaving a scar. Your doctor will work carefully to conceal the scar as much as possible. After about one year, the scar will fade. Most patients feel that the benefits of brachioplasty far outweigh the scars left behind by the surgery.
An arm lift can have greatly improve your appearance and quality of life. The benefits of this procedure include:
- An overall improved appearance: Although brachioplasty will address a relatively small area of your body, the procedure can enhance your full appearance. With slimmer arms, your entire figure may look noticeably more slender and youthful.
- More clothing options: If you suffer from severely sagging upper arms, it can significantly limit your clothing options. Following your arm lift, you may be able to fit into a wider range of clothes. You may also feel more comfortable wearing sleeveless tops or bathing suits.
- Augment your weight loss journey: If you have recently lost a large amount of weight, sagging skin on your upper arms can detract from the results and your dedication to your health. An arm lift can give you a figure that is more reflective of your healthy size.
- An enhanced self-esteem: With the combined benefits of brachioplasty, you may feel much more confident after your surgery. In turn, you may be more willing to engage in new activities, meet new people, and take on more visible leadership roles.
Although serious risks after surgery are uncommon, complications can occur. Possible risks associated with arm lift surgery include:
- Allergic reaction to anesthesia
- Significant bleeding
- Swelling of the hands
- Seromas (pockets of fluid)
- Hematoma (pocket of blood just under the skin)
- Permanent loss of sensation
- Asymmetry or unsatisfactory aesthetic results
Reducing Your Risks
Rest assured that these complications are quite rare. Nevertheless, there are certain things you can do to further limit your risks. First, choose an experienced surgeon, according to the guidelines listed above. A top-quality physician can identify potential risk factors and plan a procedure that meets your health needs. Second, you should be completely upfront with your doctor during your initial consultation. Be prepared to discuss your complete medical history and be honest about smoking, drug use, medications, and supplements. Finally, follow your surgeon’s preparatory and post-surgical instructions. Proper rest and diet will greatly reduce your risks for infection, unfavorable scarring, and other complications.
Temporary Side Effects
Although arm lifts are very low-risk procedures, you should expect a few short-term side effects. The most common include:
- Tingling sensation
Typically, discomfort and swelling will be most noticeable about 36 to 48 hours after your surgery. After this initial period, however, these symptoms will dissipate quickly.
Controlling Your Side Effects
In most cases, you can control your discomfort with non-prescription pain medication, although your doctor may prescribe something stronger. Rest and proper use of compression bandages can also minimize discomfort and speed the healing process. Additionally, a healthy diet can stimulate healing and keep inflammation at bay. For example, salt causes fluid retention. Therefore, eating low-sodium foods can reduce post-surgical swelling. It is also important to get plenty of vitamins and fiber.
In 2006, Dr. James Knoetgen and Dr. Steven Moran, researchers affiliated with the Mayo Clinic, published a study on the risks of brachioplasty. For the study, which was published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the doctors followed 40 patients who had arm lifts performed on both arms. All of the subjects were women, and their average age was 47. Over 16 years, the study showed an overall complication rate of 25 percent. Ninety-five percent of these complications were not serious. The most common risks included seroma, cellulitis, reopening of wounds, and raised scars (hypertrophic scarring). Only two patients (or 5 percent of the participants) suffered injury to the medial antebrachial cutaneous nerve. Twelve-and-a-half percent of the patients required an arm lift revision. Knoetgen and Moran concluded that arm lifts are a safe procedure with few risks. However, they noted that both doctor and patient should be aware of potential complications.
Risks of Brachioplasty Combined with Other Procedures
Another study, presented at the 2011 ASPS conference examined the complication rate when brachioplasty was combined with other procedures. The study followed 98 patients who suffered sagging upper arms due to dramatic weight loss or age; 43.9 percent of the patients had another procedure performed in conjunction with brachioplasty while 53.6 percent had liposuction at the same time. The overall complication rate was 49 percent. However, 18.4 percent of complications were classified as minor, and 40.8 percent were considered major. The most common complications included:
- Raised scarring – 22.4 percent
- Infection – 13.3 percent
- Wound reopening – 7.1 percent
In most cases, raised scars were treatable with laser therapy. In total, there was a 24.5 percent revision rate, including laser scar therapy. Overall, the study found that patients who had previous bariatric surgery or a concurrent body contouring procedure were more likely to suffer complications. However, patients who underwent liposuction at the same time as their arm lift did not face any additional risks. The researchers concluded that previous bariatric patients should be informed of their risks. They also proposed that multiple body contouring procedures should be performed in stages.
According the American Society of Plastic Surgeons®, from 2000 to 2012, arm lifts jumped in popularity by an astonishing 4,378 percent. The ASPS reported that in 2000, over 300 patients received brachioplasty. In 2013, more than 15,000 patients opted for this procedure. The group credits this jump to several factors, including the popularity of sleeveless clothes and the example of strong, fit female celebrities. In fact, from March 28 to April 1, 2013, Harris Interactive conducted a poll of American women aged 18 and above. According to this survey, women said they would like to have arms like the following celebrities:
- Michelle Obama – 31 percent
- Jennifer Aniston – 29 percent
- Jessica Biel – 16 percent
- Kelly Ripa – 13 percent
- Demi Moore – 11 percent
The ASPS also stated that several new technologies were partially responsible for the increase in arm lifts. First, rising rates of gastric bypass surgery mean that more patients have need of this procedure. Second, new scar-reduction techniques mean that fewer patients have reservations about the aftereffects of brachioplasty. Fractional lasers, silicone sheeting, and barbed suture techniques can all significantly reduce the appearance of scars.
Arm Lifts by Gender
According to the 2013 ASPS Plastic Surgery Statistics Report, 98 percent of all arm lift patients were women. Though men can also benefit from this procedure, particularly after weight loss, women are more likely to suffer from extra fat cells and tissues on their upper arms.
Arm Lifts by Age
Brachioplasty is most popular among older women. The ASPS age breakdown for this procedure is as follows:
- Age 55 and above – 15,648 total arm lifts
- Age 40 to 54 – 6,783 total arm lifts
- Age 30 to 39 – 2,257 total arm lifts
- Age 20 to 29 – 1,445 total arm lifts
Arm Lifts by Region
Arm lifts are also more popular in certain areas of the country than in others. The ASPS data shows that:
- 4,546 (29 percent) of all arm lifts occurred in the New England/Mid Atlantic region
- 3,523 (22 percent) of all arm lifts occurred in the Mountain and Pacific regions
- 3,349 (21 percent) of all arm lifts occurred in the South Atlantic region
- 2,208 (14 percent) of all arm lifts occurred in the East and West North Central regions
- 2,143 (14 percent) of all arm lifts occurred in the East and West South Central regions
Perhaps you want to improve the appearance of your arms, but you prefer less invasive treatments. If so, you may be a candidate for non-surgical body contouring. Keep in mind, however, that these treatments do not offer the dramatic results that plastic surgery can provide.
Laser Skin Tightening
Your doctor can treat your upper arms with a surgical laser. The high-power energy will stimulate collagen production. This naturally-occurring protein is responsible for skin elasticity and healing. Typically, results will appear gradually, and you may need multiple treatments, spaced several months apart. The treatment involves no scarring, no downtime, and virtually no discomfort. However, laser skin tightening is only a good solution for mild to moderate skin laxity. Brachioplasty is the only way to remove excess skin and address severely drooping arms.
Thermage® is similar to laser skin tightening, except the treatment uses radiofrequency waves, rather than light energy. The waves will tighten collagen fibers. In turn, this will give you firmer, more youthful skin. It will also increase your body’s natural collagen production for long-lasting results. During Thermage®, you may experience a warming sensation, but the treatment is typically discomfort-free. Thermage® is not a solution for severely drooping skin. However, it can enhance slightly loose or crepe-like skin on the upper arms. It can also be an effective solution for stretch marks.
VelaShape is a relatively recent innovation that uses a combination of radiofrequency treatments, infrared light, massage and suctioning. Approved by the FDA in 2007, doctors typically use the treatment to smooth cellulite and tone the thighs. Nevertheless, VelaShape can also be effective on the upper arms. The treatment melts excess fat cells, so your body will be able to absorb and expel them on its own. You will typically require four to six treatments, spaced one week apart. VelaShape can be a great option to reduce stubborn fat pockets, but your doctor can only remove excess skin with an arm lift.
Like VelaShape, Zerona® treatments liquefy fat cells. Then your body can naturally expel them through the lymphatic system. Zerona® uses cold lasers to target these unwanted fat cells, and it involves no discomfort, scarring, or downtime. For optimal results, you should undergo six treatments, spaced about a day apart. Zerona® is primarily used on the waist, hips, and thighs. However, it may be a good option to eliminate extra fat on your upper arms, as well.
Weight lifting and other strength-building exercises can give you a sleeker look, but they cannot address extra skin. Nevertheless, after recovering from your arm lift surgery, upper body exercises can augment your results and help you to maintain the effects of your procedure. These exercises will also build muscle mass, which will help your body to burn more calories and prevent weight gain.
Combining Your Arm Lift with Other Treatments
If you have excess fat on your arms, you may choose to combine your brachioplasty with liposuction for the most dramatic results. After suctioning fat and tightening the skin on the arm, your surgeon will remove the surplus skin of your upper arm and close the incision. Other procedures that can be combined with arm lift surgery include tummy tuck and thigh lift surgery.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I minimize scarring after my arm lift?
Your doctor will position incisions carefully to conceal scarring as much as possible. Nevertheless, there are certain things you can do to further reduce the appearance of scars. These include:
- Eating a healthy diet, with plenty of vitamins and lean protein
- Staying hydrated during recovery
- Avoiding direct sunlight on the incision
- Quitting smoking
- Lightly massaging the area
- Using topical scar cream
- Treating scars with silicone sheeting
Laser therapy can also minimize scars after they are fully healed.
Can I get an arm lift if I plan to lose weight?
You should postpone brachioplasty until you are at a stable weight. Further weight loss could leave more stretched or damaged skin, meaning you could require a revision surgery.
How long will my results last?
If you maintain a stable weight and exercise regularly, the results of your arm lift could last for decades. Cosmetic surgery cannot stop the aging process or prevent you from losing skin elasticity. Nevertheless, in most cases, you will never have the severely drooping skin that you had before your brachioplasty.
Can an arm lift remove excess skin on my forearm?
An arm lift on the forearms is quite rare. Nevertheless, doctors can perform this procedure on its own or in conjunction with an upper arm lift. Keep in mind that this treatment will leave an additional scar on your forearm, which will be harder to conceal. If you are interested in treating both areas of your arm, you should discuss this with your surgeon at your initial consultation.
Can an arm lift eliminate my stretch marks?
If stretch marks are located on the extra skin, your doctor can remove these marks when trimming away the excess tissues. However, brachioplasty is not a good solution for stretch marks on their own. The treatment also cannot remove stretch marks on your healthy skin.
Can an arm lift treat my wrinkled elbows?
Wrinkled or excess skin on the elbows is often one of the first signs of aging. An arm lift can eliminate this skin and give you a much younger appearance. However, your surgeon will need to create a longer incision, running from your arm pit to your elbow. In some cases, it may have to extend beyond this point.
What is a bilateral brachioplasty?
Bilateral brachioplasty simply means an arm lift performed on both arms at the same time.
Should I have an arm lift or liposuction?
If you have good skin quality, you are likely a candidate for liposuction on its own. This procedure will eliminate excess fat, and your healthy skin will readjust to the new shape of your arm. An arm lift is designed to address damaged, loose skin. You may be a good candidate for this procedure, even if you do not carry any excess fat on your arms. Again, you can combine the two procedures if you struggle with both stubborn fat deposits and sagging skin. Ultimately, the only way to determine the right option for your needs is to schedule an appointment with a skilled plastic surgeon.
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