What are some of the tummy tuck risks you should be aware of before you have this surgery? Most serious complications associated with abdominoplasty (those resulting in hospitalization) are not very common. However, other non-life threatening problems such as less-than-ideal aesthetic results occur pretty frequently. More extensive forms of abdominoplasty (such as the Fleur-de-lys that uses a T incision) have a high rate of complications with wound healing compared to a traditional tummy tuck that has only a horizontal incision. Overweight patients and those who smoke tend to have higher than average tummy tuck complication rates.
The list of tummy tuck risks below includes both very rare and fairly common complications for this extensive and invasive plastic surgery. An experienced plastic surgeon can discuss your personal risk profile based on your medical history, the elasticity of your skin, the type of abdominoplasty you need, your lifestyle, and other factors. That way, you can make an informed decision about whether the risks are worth it for you. Be sure to get answers to all your questions prior to signing the informed consent form. This may include asking what course of action your surgeon would take if you do have a complication. Knowing what to expect in advance can help you identify potential warning signs of a complication and help you stay calm if something does go wrong.
Tummy Tuck Risks During the Operation
Adverse reaction to anesthesia resulting in respiratory failure or cardiac arrest is the most serious risk since it can cause death. However, the chances of this actually happening are extremely small. If you do have a history of allergic or adverse reactions to anesthesia, you are not a good candidate for a tummy tuck. Sometimes, patients may go into shock simply from the physical trauma of the surgery itself (especially for an extensive abdominoplasty or one done in conjunction with other plastic surgery procedures). Limiting yourself to one cosmetic surgery at a time is usually the wisest course of action.
Excessive bleeding is another potentially serious side effect. This is most common in patients who are taking medications that interfere with normal blood clotting. Since there are literally hundreds of prescription and over-the-counter drugs that can thin the blood and affect clotting, it is vital for you to disclose ALL substances you are taking prior to surgery. Your surgeon will let you know what is safe to keep taking, if you need to adjust your dosage, or if you should stop taking a medication temporarily.
Surgical error such as unintentional damage to important blood vessels is another potential risk during abdominoplasty surgery. Every surgeon makes mistakes at some point. However, this is much more likely with an inexperienced surgeon or one who agrees to do the surgery even for patients who are poor candidates. To protect yourself from this risk, you should thoroughly research the background and reputation of the surgeon you choose for your abdominoplasty. If you are turned down by one or more surgeons based on your risk profile, you should reconsider whether getting the surgery is really a good idea for you.
Tummy Tuck Risks During Early Recovery
The first week or two after tummy tuck surgery is the time when a number of serious complications may arise. These include:
- Post-operative bleeding (in extreme cases, this may require additional surgery to stop the blood loss)
- Fluid accumulation (the fluid may need to be drained)
- Bloods clots including deep vein or pulmonary thrombosis which can be fatal (walking as soon as possible after surgery may help reduce this risk)
- Fat necrosis causing lumps under the skin (fatty tissue that has its blood supply disrupted by the surgery may start to die)
- Wound separation (the edges of the wound don’t knit together and the skin at the edges may die leading to permanent skin loss and the need for additional surgery to close the wound)
- Wound infection (this may be treated with antibiotics if mild and with additional surgery if severe)
The following side effects generally occur beginning immediately after surgery and persist for a long period of time:
- Pain ranging from moderate to severe. This is managed with prescription pain medication. Following post-operative instructions for rest and limiting activity may reduce the severity and duration of pain.
- Swelling is a side effect that everyone experiences. Wearing the compression garment as directed will help reduce swelling and associated discomfort.
- Skin discoloration such as bruising around the surgical site. This should fade over time.
- Numbness, tingling, discomfort or other changes in skin sensation around the incision that may linger for many months.
Tummy Tuck Risks Later In Recovery
Later in your recovery, as the initial discomfort and swelling subside, you may notice additional problems. These include:
Asymmetry: Everyone has some asymmetry between their right and left side. However, a noticeable difference may occur after surgery in some cases. Liposuction may occasionally help even things out.
Dog ears: This term refers to the bunching of the skin that may occur at the two ends of the horizontal tummy tuck incision, creating little pointy bits of skin. These may smooth out over time during healing. If they don’t, the “dog ears” will need to be snipped off and the corners of the incision re-sutured, lengthening the scar slightly.
Weird-looking navel: Your belly button may look strange if it was “untethered” and reattached higher on your abdomen as it is in a traditional tummy tuck. If the result looks too unnatural, the belly button may be surgically reconstructed. This tummy tuck risk isn’t an issue with a mini tuck which leaves the navel intact.
Visible sutures: The sutures in the skin are removed within the first two weeks after surgery (unless absorbable sutures are used). However, the deep tissue sutures that help hold the underlying tissues in place remain inside you. In some cases, these may start poking out enough to be visible under the surface of the skin or actually poke through the skin. These sutures may need to be removed.
Excessive scarring: All patients experience some scarring. However, raised and discolored scars (keloid or hypertrophic scars) that are very unsightly may require laser treatment or other revision therapies to help them shrink and fade. Talk to your surgeon if you tend to have problems with scars. There may be steps you can take during recovery to minimize scarring.