Breast lifts, like any cosmetic surgery, carry a number of risks that you should fully understand before scheduling your procedure. Your chances of experiencing breast lift complications is higher if you have an underlying health condition or lifestyle habit (such as smoking) that affects your circulation, your immune system or your body’s general ability to heal itself. Certain medications can also increase your risk. Your surgeon will go over your medical history with you in detail prior to surgery to determine whether you are a good candidate for mastopexy.
Adverse reactions to anesthesia used during breast lifts (including both allergic and chemical irritant reactions) can be very dangerous. The statistics on what percentage of patients experience a complication during surgery due to anesthesia vary widely. According to the World Allergy Organization, the total rate of adverse reactions to anesthesia may be one out of every 3,500 patients. However, the rate of life-threatening reactions is much lower (one out of every 10,000-20,000 patients). Unless you have had an adverse reaction to anesthesia before, it is difficult to tell whether you are at risk. You will be carefully monitored during breast lift surgery to ensure any bad reaction is identified and treated as soon as possible.
Problems with Bleeding
Excessive blood loss is a rare breast lift complication that may occur during or after surgery. In cases of extreme blood loss, patients may require a transfusion. There are many over-the-counter medications, herbs and supplements that may increase your risk of bleeding. This is why you should always tell your surgeon about every medication or supplement you have ingested in the two weeks prior to surgery.
Blood lost during the healing process may accumulate inside the body near the surgical site, requiring drainage and/or surgery to remove blood clots. Drains are usually placed after a breast lift to prevent accumulation of blood (hematoma) during the first few days after surgery. However, additional blood and fluid may build up after the drains are taken out (this buildup may appear as lumps or changes in skin color). This is most common in patients who do not follow post-operative instructions regarding limiting physical activity. In very rare cases, a blood clot may break free and travel into the lung, causing death.
The use of antibiotics during and after surgery usually prevents these breast lift complications. However, there is a slight chance of infection after breast lifts. The symptoms of infection include redness (especially if it is spreading), swelling, fever, pain that gets worse a couple of days after surgery, pus oozing from the wound and skin that is warm to the touch. Wound infection is a serious complication and should be treated immediately. This may involve additional surgery to remove infected materials and stronger antibiotics to stop the infection.
Use of antibiotics after a breast lift carries its own risks since some individuals are allergic to drugs like penicillin. You should call 911 immediately if you have symptoms such as difficulty breathing, hives, wheezing, swelling in your mouth or throat, dizziness, fainting, rapid or weak pulse after taking an antibiotic. These symptoms may indicate an immediately life-threatening reaction.
Wound Healing Problems
Wound separation (where the edges of an incision fail to knit together) can significantly delay wound healing. The skin at edges of the wound may die. The most common site for this problem is in anchor breast lifts where the vertical and horizontal incisions meet. Smokers are more likely than other patients to have this problem. If the skin at the edges of the wound dies, the surgeon may have to remove the dead skin and re-suture the incision. Necrosis (tissue death) can also happen inside the breast when small areas of fatty tissue die from interrupted blood flow. These necrotic areas may present as hard lumps in the breast. This is a serious complication because it can lead to gangrene.
Changes in Sensation
Sensations ranging from pain to numbness, tightness, or tingling are all normal side effects from mastopexy. Pain generally subsides substantially in the first few weeks after surgery. Other changes in sensation may take longer to resolve since nerve endings take a while to regenerate (some may take a full six months). However, any of these side effects can turn into long-term breast lift complications for some women. Occasionally, patients never regain normal sensation in their nipples and surrounding areas of breast skin. Others experience chronic pain after surgery. More extensive breast lifts tend to have a higher incidence of long term changes in sensation since more nerves are severed during surgery.
Not every patient is satisfied with how their breasts look after mastopexy surgery. Problems may include:
- Raised red, purple or brown scars that do not fade over time
- Noticeable asymmetry in the breasts
- Unwanted changes in areola size and shape
These issues may require revision surgery.