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Tummy Tuck - Is It Safe? What Are the Risks and Side Effects?

How safe is a tummy tuck?

Doctor Answers (28)

A tummy tuck is an elective, cosmetic procedure that is...

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A tummy tuck is an elective, cosmetic procedure that is done under a general anesthetic and it has a well recognized set of risks associated with it.

The term 'safety' is relative to the individual patient's perspective. In general terms, it is a safe procedure.

The risks of the procedure related to the surgical wound include infection, wound healing problems, fluid collecting underneath the wound (seroma). The cumulative risk of these problems is about 10-15% in a non-smoking patient. These wound issues can be managed by your plastic surgeon post-operatively, and usually will not affect the long term result of the tummy tuck in a substantial way.

The risks of the procedure related to the surgery and the general anesthetic include deep venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and anesthetic complications. This is by no means a complete list, but the risk of these complications approaches 1/1000 cases.

For more information on abdominoplasty, take a look at my website which has an article on the topic.


Seattle Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 39 reviews

Tummy tuck risks

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Hello. Tummy tucks (abdominoplasties) are very commonly performed surgeries with a high satisfaction rate. I have performed over 1000 of these procedures and the patients are among my happiest. This surgery corrects the loose  skin, stretch marks, lax abdominal muscles and excess tummy fat often seen after pregnancy or weight gain/loss and that do not respond well to diet and exercise.

Like any surgical procedure, there are risks associated with tummy tucks. These include infection, blood or fluid collections under the skin, prolonged numbness, poor scars, blood clots etc. However, in healthy  patients with few or no risk factors, this procedure is very safe with a low rate of serious complications. Make sure that your surgeon is a board-certified plastic surgeon with significant experience in this type of surgery and you are likley to have an excellent outcome.

Arie Benchetrit, MD
Montreal Plastic Surgeon
1.0 out of 5 stars 4 reviews

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A tummy tuck is a safe procedure IF it is performed on a...

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A tummy tuck is a safe procedure IF it is performed on a healthy non-obese patient and is performed by an American Board of Plastic Surgery certified surgeon who performs the surgery frequently.

The most significant complications that can occur from a tummy tuck are fluid collections in the wound after your drain is removed and blood clots in the veins. The first of these is a nuisance problem that resolves with drawing out the fluid with syringes. The second problem, namely blood clots in the veins, is a serious and potentially life threatening complication. Many measures can be taken to minimize the risk including stopping hormone replacement therapies preop, using compression stockings and pneumatic pumps during surgery, and insisting on early ambulation postoperatively. With these measures, blood clots are rare.

All in all, tummy tucks are great surgeries for the properly selected patient!

Richard P. Rand, MD, FACS
Seattle Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 51 reviews

Tummy tucks are safe and satisfying procedures.

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A tummy tuck is a very safe procedure. I will admit that most patients feel it is a painful procedure, especially if the muscles have to get repaired.

The biggest risks, in my opinion, of the procedure are:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • wound healing problems
  • post-op fluid collections
  • blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis (DVT))
  • clots being thrown to the lungs (pulmonary embolism)

The risks of all these problems are usually less than 5-8%.

When I perform a tummy tuck, I typically give my patients extra IV fluids in the pre-op area before surgery and put anti-embolism stockings on their legs to massage the veins in the legs while they are asleep. To this I add early post-op walking to minimizing clot potential.

Finally, most surgeons put their patients in an abdominal binder, at least, to help with compression and pain control. I only have my patients wear their binders when walking around. I think that binders squeeze too tightly on the tummy and put pressure on leg veins when in the sitting position.

Good attention to preventing bleeding during surgery can help reduce the risk of post-op bleeding problems (hematoma) and fluid collections (seroma). A skin closure that is just tight enough, and good nutrition, can keep wound healing problems down.

I hope this helps answer your question.

Manish H. Shah, MD, FACS
Denver Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 21 reviews

Tummy Tuck Safety

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A tummy tuck, like any plastic surgery procedure can be very safe. Patient selection is important as health issues could result in complications. It is critical to select an experienced board certified plastic surgeon who operates in an accredited facility. It is also imperative to have a board-certified anesthesiologist administering anesthesia. 

Post operative care is critical and an important part of the surgical process. Be sure to have post operative appointments scheduled before surgery and report any concerns to your plastic surgeon's office right away.

Michael Law, MD
Raleigh-Durham Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 42 reviews

Complications with Tummy Tucks

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Although abdominoplasty is generally considered a safe procedure, complications can occasionally occur.  The vast majority of complications are the result of wound healing problems and can usually be managed without further surgical intervention.

Areas of concern include bleeding, infection, anesthesia problems, seromas, pain, scarring, asymmetry, fat necrosis, decreased sensation and wound separation.

Complications can be minimized by consulting a board-certified plastic surgeon with experience performing this procedure.  This procedure is associated with high satisfaction and improved quality of life.

Richard J. Bruneteau, MD
Omaha Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 86 reviews

Tummy Tuck Risks

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Tummy tucks are a major procedure with inherent risks and should be done at an accredited facility with an anesthesiologist.  Risks of any surgery are bleeding, infection and scarring.  A hematoma or seroma is a blood or fluid collection that can occur and is lessened by avoiding things that can make you bleed (aspirin, ibuprofen, herbals), suturing techniques and compression after surgery.  Blood clots or deep venous thrombosis is a risk and is increased if you smoke, are on birth control, have a family history or for combined procedures that take longer than 3-4 hours.  Prolonged swelling or muscle stretch (diastasis) can recur if patients are active too soon after surgery. Smoking increases the risk of wound healing problems after surgery and should be avoided. Patients can have temporary or permanent numbness to the lower abdomen above the scar.

Tummy Tuck Risks and Side Effects

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The potential side effects of a tummy tuck may include swelling, scarring, numbness, bruising and discomfort. Tummy tuck swelling is very common, as are the other side effects.

In terms of more serious risks, along with unexpected anaesthetic reactions, rare dangers of a tummy tuck include:

Infection
Patients are given antibiotics during surgery and a prescription for antibiotics that is to be taken after treatment. These work to reduce the chance of developing an infection.

Haematoma
A haematoma involves bleeding under the skin. This condition may require surgery to correct. If blood cannot be adequately drained from the area affected by the haematoma, excessive bleeding may need to be treated through a blood transfusion or surgery. The most common form of haematoma is far less severe, though. The problem is usually treated through aspiration or the placement of a drain that targets the localized blood collection.
The risk of developing a haematoma is minimized when a patient follows pre- and post-operation instructions. Avoid taking any blood thinners (aspirin, anti-inflammatories or vitamin E) in the time before and after surgery.

Seroma
A seroma is a collection of fluid around the operational site. Patients who develop a seroma can be easily treated through a routine draining procedure.

Numbness and Skin Irritation
Numbness is usually very noticeable immediately after surgery, especially below the belly button in the midline. Over time, however, enough feeling returns that patients don’t pay attention to it any longer. This usually takes somewhere between three to eight months. Be careful when applying heat to numb areas, as even the minimal heat of a hot water bottle may damage or burn the skin if not carefully used.

Unusually Red or Raised Scars
Unusually red or raised scarring can take several months to fade. In other cases, bad scarring or the formation of keloid or hypertrophic scars can occur. This is usually the fault of a genetic predisposition towards improper scarring, something that can affect patients of all skin colours (and not just those of darker skin as previously believed).

Blood Clots
Blood clots (deep vein thrombosis or cardiac and pulmonary complications) can result from lengthy surgeries where the patient is immobilized. The main concern associated with the formation of (or increase in) blood clots in the veins of the legs is their ability to travel to other parts of the body. Blood clots that travel to the lungs, for example, can cause pulmonary embolism — a life threatening and, in some cases, fatal condition.
Dr. Edelstein commonly uses compression stockings on the legs, and a very small dose of a blood thinner immediately before surgery, to help prevent clotting. The risk of developing blood clots can be reduced by moving as soon as possible after the surgery is complete. Patients are also urged to discuss their medical history with Dr. Edelstein. Any past history of blood clots, swollen legs or the use of estrogen or birth control pills can contribute to blood clotting and must be disclosed during consultation. Patients who experience an irregular heartbeat, chest pain or shortness of breath after treatment should immediately contact their physician and receive medical attention. In some cases additional procedures and hospitalization may be required.

Fat Necrosis
During the body's recovery process some of the deeper skin fat may die while other tissue heals. While fat necrosis is usually benign, patients who notice irregular body contours or areas of unusual firmness should contact Dr. Edelstein.
The chance of developing any of these complications is usually less than five to eight percent.

Jerome Edelstein, MD
Toronto Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 70 reviews

Tummy Tuck - Is It Safe? What Are the Risks and Side Effects?

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The majority of serious complications that may occur with tummy tuck surgery occur within the first 2 weeks.  These may include deep venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia, infection, bleeding, and even death.    Fortunately, the  potential for these types of major complications are very small,  assuming careful selection of plastic surgeon, anesthesiologist, and fully accredited surgery facility. Other types of complications that are more likely ( but still much less than 50%) include superficial incision line healing problems ( wound healing problems), seromas,  abdominal wall asymmetry, abnormal scarring, unsatisfactory cosmetic result…  Given that your surgical procedure is scheduled, you may benefit from additional consultation with your selected plastic surgeon to address specific concerns/questions. Patients going into surgery should do so in a confident/calm fashion;  doing so generally results in a smoother recovery process. Best wishes. 

Tom J. Pousti, MD, FACS
San Diego Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 781 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.