Abdominoplasty (Tummy Tuck) : Recovery & Risks

The Recovery from any type of abdominoplasty depends on the problem to be treated, surgical technique(s), and other factors. Normally, recovery takes one to four weeks and patients are advised to take at least a portion of this recovery time off from work.
The following precautions need to be taken:

  1. Heavy activity especially is best avoided during this time.
  2. Initially there may be bruising and discomfort.
  3. A supportive abdominal binder or compression garment can minimize swelling / bruising, and support the repaired tissues.
  4. Patients are advised to avoid all forms of nicotine for a month or longer prior to surgery and also during the recovery period.

The full recovery takes about 3 – 6 months, with further fading of scars thereafter.

Abdominoplasty carries certain risks that may be serious or life-threatening. When taking the decision to undergo such a procedure it is recommended to compare the benefits with the potential risks and complications. Hence, all patients must be informed on all the risks they are exposing themselves to.

Although tummy tucks are considered safe procedures, as with any other type of surgery, different complications may arise. The majority of the risks can be avoided if the patients follow carefully the instructions they receive from their surgeon.

Severe complications occur however in rare cases and these include blood clots, thrombosis, cardiac and pulmonary complications or infection.
Infection and blood clots are a serious potential risk after abdominoplasty, but which occur rarely. Infection is usually treated with antibiotics and drainage. Patients are recommended to move around as soon as possible after surgery to minimize their risks of developing blood clots.
Pulmonary embolism, heart attack or stroke are very rare complications that may result after any type of surgery due to immobility after surgery which results in blood clots that may travel to the heart, lung or brain.

Thus, pulmonary embolism is a serious risk after “tummy tuck” procedure and if they occur, they commonly happen within 3 weeks of the surgery, but more commonly within the first 72 hours after the procedure has been performed.

If complications occur, they usually delay the healing process. In rare cases, another surgery is needed to fix a potential complication. Skin necrosis is one of the complications that may require another procedure as the dead skin must be replaced by a skin graft. Although necrosis is extremely rare, smokers have an increased risk to develop skin necrosis.

One of the more common problems after an abdominoplasty is collection of fluid under the skin after the drains have been removed. A surgeon can aspirate the fluid with a needle. The drainage stops within a month and does not affect the final results.
The scars resulting from abdominoplasty are long, brutal in appearance, and permanent. The size of the scar depends on the amount of skin that has been cut-off, the techniques used for the surgery, the surgeon’s skills, and the body’s ability to recover. Although this scar will never become invisible, it is usually placed under the swimsuit line so it is covered by clothes. It normally takes 9 months to a year before scars flatten out and lighten in color.
Possible risks of abdominoplasty include:

  1. Bleeding
  2. Fluid accumulation
  3. Poor wound healing
  4. Skin loss
  5. Numbness or other changes in skin sensation
  6. Anesthesia complications
  7. Skin discoloration and/or prolonged swelling
  8. Fatty tissue found deep in the skin might die (fat necrosis)
  9. Major wound separation
  10. Asymmetry
  11. Recurrent looseness of skin
  12. Pain, which may persist
  13. Persistent swelling in the legs
  14. Nerve damage
  15. Possibility of revisional surgery
  16. Hematoma (may occur in 3 to 4% of cases)
  17. Keloid (heavy scar)
  18. Seroma
  19. Suture rupture
  20. Swelling
  21. Visible scar
  22. Death

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