Fluid Build-Up After Tummy Tuck

I had a tummy tuck Feb 07,2011 and i have had fluid build up since i got my drains taken out about a week and a half ago. My stomach is like a water bed and i am bigger now than before i got the TT. I went to the doctor out of concern and they told me it would go away on its own but from what i read it can take years or be uncomfortable to let the body do it alone. The fluid doesn't seem to be going down at all and i look pregnant. What should i do?

Doctor Answers 18

Fluid collection after a tummy tuck

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Your description seems to indicate a seroma (fluid collection) has occurred after the drain removal.  Drains are placed after surgery to help minimize fluid collection that naturally occurs when the abdomen has been contoured as it has in a tummy tuck.  If a small amount of fluid collects after drain removal, your body will often absorb it without difficulty.  However, if there is a significant amount of fluid, it does need to be drained to prevent long-term complications.  The best treatment approach is drainage done with a needle in the office followed by compressive garments.  If the fluid continues to re-accumulate, another drain may need to be placed.  Good luck!

Dallas Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 78 reviews

Problems with allowing a seroma to reabsorb on its own

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Dear ladyjay,

If you have a fluid collection (seroma) that makes your tummy feel like a 'water bed' and you 'look pregnant' it means that it is fairly large. The problem with allowing a larger seroma to go away on its own:

  1. It can take weeks or even months to resolve
  2. the longer the seroma exists, the harder it is to resolve on its own
  3. if the seroma does resolve on its own, the skin overlying the seroma will pucker and become 'sucked in'. This will be especially noticeable at the incision, where the tummy skin above the incision will have a significant step off
  4. as the seroma becomes larger, you will feel more and more uncomfortable

It  has been more than one month since your surgery. If it does still  does not show signs of resolving,  you should follow up with your plastic surgeon again. Good luck.

Best regards,

Lawrence Tong MD FACS FRCSC

Lawrence Tong, MD
Toronto Plastic Surgeon

Fluid Build-Up After Tummy Tuck

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From you description, you have a seroma. This needs to be drained.  I typically do this with a needle and syringe and follow my patient every few days until it is completely resolved.  If it is as significant as you state "like a water bed" it is unlikely that it will resolve on its own any time soon!

Amy T. Bandy, DO, FACS
Newport Beach Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 109 reviews

Fluid or seroma after tummy tuck

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With tummy tuck techniques that still require a drain, a seroma can develop after the drain is removed and present the full and pregnant feeling that you are now experiencing. The heavy water bed sensation is typical and the fastest way to resolve the issue is to replace the drain. Sounds awful though you will do better and feel better immediately.

Best of luck,


Peter E. Johnson, MD
Chicago Plastic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 44 reviews

Seroma after Tummy Tuck.

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This is not unusual after a Tummy Tuck.  A small amount of fluid may be reabsorbed by the body.  If you notice a fluid wave, however, this may indicate a more substantial volume that could require a drainage procedure in the office.  If a significant volume of fluid is left untreated, it may form a lined cavity or pseudo cyst that might require surgical treatment.  Contact your plastic surgeon to address your concerns.

Stephen Delia, MD
Boston Plastic Surgeon

Post operative seroma

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You are describing a post operative seroma. It is a somewhat common complication, even with use of drains.  Your surgeon is right i that most small seromas can resolve on their own.  However, if you have a "waterbed" look to the overlying skin you likely will need to have your seroma drained.  This is a simple procedure done in the office in which a needle and syringe is used to remove the fluid.  This is followed by use of a compression garment and may need to be repeat a few time before it goes away.

Postoperative Seroma after Tummy Tuck

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Ladyjay from Plant City,


You appear to be describing a postoperative seroma, which is a known complication from tummy tuck surgery.   It can result from persistant fluid accumulation after drain removal or a retained fluid collection that was not adequately drained.   Depending on the size of the collection, you may require a percutaneous drainage.    If the drainage recurs, a seroma catheter (small drain) can be placed until the drainage subsides.   

It is possible for the seroma cavity to form a capsule, which can be a very difficult problem to solve, requiring return to surgery to ultimately correct.    I recommend that you follow up closely with your surgeon and discuss all the options.

Paul S. Gill, MD
Houston Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 94 reviews

Seroma after Tummy tuck

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A seroma is a collection of fluid that should be removed either by aspiration or by drain placement.  Larger amounts like your description usually fare better with an active drain.   Best of Luck.

Remember that an in-person exam with a board-certified plastic surgeon would be the best way to assess your situation and guarantee an individualized medical advice. Best of luck! 

Michael M. Omidi, MD, FACS
Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 122 reviews

Seroma and Tummy Tuck

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Thank you for your post. Seromas can be painful and cause a cosmetic deformity, as well as sometimes leak. The whole point of drains is to keep a seroma from happening in the first place. If a drainless procedure was performed, and you had a seroma, or you had drains that were pulled and you subsequently had a seroma, then you should be drained, otherwise a capsule builds around the fluid making it permanent. If a capsule builds around the seroma (pseudo bursa or encapsulated seroma) then the only way to remove the seroma is to surgically open the areas and excise the capsule, and close over drains to prevent another seroma from happening. If the seroma is encapsulated and is tight and painful, then it can be confused with just swelling or fat. An ultrasound is useful in distinguishing these and identifying the extent of the seroma. If the seroma is not yet encapsulated, then it is usually loose and has a 'fluid wave' or water bed type feel. Occasionally, a seroma can also become infected, especially if a permanent braided suture was used. This will have a hot, red appearance, and will eventually open up. Seromas can be aspirated instead of surgically removed and a tight compression garment placed, however this needs to be done often and until it is gone.
Best wishes,
Pablo Prichard, MD

Pablo Prichard, MD
Phoenix Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 42 reviews

Fluid buildup after tummy tuck

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 Your condition is consistent with a seroma, which is a collection of fluid underneath the abdominal flap. This should be addressed as it can be more difficult to resolve if it is left untreated early. Usually it will respond to needle aspirations in the office in conjunction with a pressure garment. You may require a number of aspiration sessions to completely resolve it. At times seromas can persist and require more aggressive treatments such as drains, sclerosing agents, or even surgery, but this is more the exception

David A. Bottger, MD
Philadelphia Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 59 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.