Tummy Tuck Without Drainage Vs. with Drains?

Does it make a difference on swelling? I notice that people who have Tummy Tucks without drainage seem to be more swollen than tummy tucks done with. What is the difference?

Doctor Answers 27

Tummy Tuck With or Without drains

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Plastic surgeons have been doing tummy tucks for over 50 years and have used drains. For 20 years I used drains on all my patients, but for the last 5 years I rarely use them. Dr Harlan Pollack in Dallas pioneered and popularized a technique using Progressive Tension Sutures (like quilting stitches) to attach the skin and fat to the deep layer underneath after removing the excess and wrinkled skin. I have done this procedure now for 5 years and I have never had a fluid accumulation, which is why drains are used (however, the technique does not eliminate the risk - nothing can eliminate all risks).
Patients are more comfortable when they do not have to care for drains and they can shower earlier. There may be slightly more swelling, but it is not significant and by 1 month there is really no difference in the swelling of those with and those without drains.

Be sure to visit a board certified Plastic Surgeon who is regularly performing body contour surgery.

Montclair Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 7 reviews

Tunny Tuck without Drains.

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Traditionally, surgeons have used drains after a tummy tuck to drain any fluid which may accumulate under the skin which has been repositioned and tightened.  We refer to this space beneath the skin as "dead space".  Basically a space without purpose, but one in which fluid can accumulate.  This fluid is usually serous fluid (clear fluid) from the disruption of the lymphatic vessels during surgery and not blood. 

Now, if the dead space is eliminated through quilt suturing of the skin which has been repositioned to the tissue underneath, there would be no place for the fluid to accumulate.  This suturing technique of the two layers to obliterate the dead space takes a bit more time in the operating room, but it works quite nicely and avoids fluid collection.  It works in both massive weight-loss patients and those who have not had significant weight changes other than pregnancy.  Not having drains brings a significant amount of comfort to the patient in exchange for a few minutes of longer surgery time.

Whether drains are used or not, there is a certain degree of swelling associated with a tummy tuck that results from a) disruption of the lymphatic vessels and b) from change in the pattern of blood flow to that part of the abdomen.  Swelling is related to fluid accumulation between the cells in the tissues and not in the dead space where the drains are placed or where the space is closed by sutures.  In conclusion, I have not found that having or not having drains makes a difference in the post-operative swelling. However, not having drains after the surgery is much more comfortable for the patient.

Ramin Behmand, MD
San Francisco Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 44 reviews

"No Drain" Tummy Tuck Technique is Preferred, although I may still use a Drain...

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I use a "no drain" technique in every Tummy Tuck and Body Lift procedure I perform, although if I also perform a significant amount of liposuction, I will commonly use a drain. "No drain" technique includes using what are called "quilting sutures" or "progressive tension sutures" that help close off spaces where fluid may collect and take tension off of the closure line of the skin.

Your question about whether there is less swelling when a drain is places is a good one. I believe that drains can reduce the amount of swelling seen, but this is hard to accurately anticipate for a given patient. Surgeons that do not place drains undoubtably will see some fluid collections (called "seromas"), and in such cases, perhaps the use of a drain would have prevented this. 

My approach is to use quilting sutures in every case and to selectively use drains when I have performed a significant amount of liposuction -- a bit of a "belt and suspenders" approach that has made the occurrence of seromas drop to nearly zero in my practice.

Hope this helps,

Nick Slenkovich, MD

No-Drain Tummy Tuck, seroma, and swelling

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It is certainly true that most plastic surgeons use drains when they do Tummy Tucks.  Doing the Tummy Tuck without drains is more complex, since it is necessary to eliminate the space where the fluid would otherwise collect in order to prevent a seroma.

However, doing the Tummy Tuck using the No-Drain technique has actually been shown to reduce the chance of seroma.  As one of the other doctors noted, seroma is one of the most common complications of standard Tummy Tuck, but I have been doing the No-Drain Tummy Tuck for all of my Tummy Tucks since 2008, and it has been years since I last saw a seroma after a Tummy Tuck that I performed.

One of the other answers also suggested removing the drains after the daily drainage is less than 30 cc per day, and that is certainly the standard practice.  However, I think that misses the point.  I think that often a seroma will occur after the drain is removed if there is still a space and lack of attachment between the overlying Tummy Tuck flap and the underlying abdominal muscle.  So even if the amount of drainage every day is lower, a seroma can still occur once the drain is removed.  When I used drains for Tummy Tucks, I often saw seroma occur even if the drain was left in place for three weeks, and the risk was higher if the drain was removed sooner than three weeks.

Swelling is just a descriptive term, and can be the result of seroma as well as healing of the tissue.  Some swelling occurs with any surgery, and I don't think it is any greater whether or not drains are used in Tummy Tuck.  I would say that it is probably very hard to evaluate the amount of swelling from online posted photographs, taken using different photographic techniques at different focal lengths, different lighting conditions, and different times after surgery.

James Nachbar, MD
Scottsdale Plastic Surgeon

Tummy Tucks and Drains

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Thanks for your question.

Tummy tucks creates a large dead space above the belly button down to the incision. Fluid can accumulate in this space. In addition, incisions used to perform abdominoplasty divide small lymphatic vessels decreasing the body's ability to return fluid from tissue back into the circulation.

Drains usually stay in from 4 days to two weeks. The drains are used to remove fluid that collects in the dead space created. When drain output is low enough (most surgeons use about ~30 cc/day as a point that indicates the drains are safe to take out).

Even after the drains are removed there will be some degree of swelling in the tissue flaps themselves because of the divided lymphatics. It takes those channels several months to reconstitute. The swelling within that tissue will last until your body has rebuilt them.

I hope that helps.

Drainage after Tummy Tuck reduces chance of fluid accumulation and swelling beneath the skin

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I usually place drains beneath the skin after a tummy tuck. The drains remove fluid and blood that accumulates in the first 24 hours after the tummy tuck.

I use drains, because if the fluid does build up after surgery and a drain is not used to remove it, you can develope a seroma which is an accumulation of fluid that not only causes swelling, but also has to be removed by needle aspiration. This prolongs recovery and can produce longer swelling. Seromas can become infected and harm the final aesthtic result.

Long-term swelling after tummy tuck (6 weeks to 3 months) is not likely caused by failure to use a drain. More likely, long-term swelling is caused by failure to remove enough skin and/or fat during the tummy tuck.

No Drain Tummy Tuck Information

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Thank you for your question. A No Drain Tummy Tuck is usually an option. 

Surgical drains are awkward, irritating and very uncomfortable. They are always a worrisome part of abdominoplasty surgery for patients and produces lots of anxiety in patients. One reason that surgical drains are such a nuisance is that they make normal, everyday activities extremely difficult to perform such as: One reason that surgical drains are such a nuisance is that they make normal, everyday activities extremely difficult to perform such as: getting dressed, walking and showering. This can result into a longer recovery process. Another thing that patients worry about is the pain associated with pulling the drainage tubes out; drains are generally used in surgery to stop fluid from accumulating between tissue planes.

During a tummy tuck surgery, there is space between the abdominal wall and the overlying fat and skin (the abdominal flap). The body will do what it usually does during the healing process, produce fluid, if nothing is done to close this space. Because there is nothing to confine the fluid from accumulating, a seroma can develop in this space. In other words, the tissue produces fluid more quickly than it can reabsorb.

Negative suction drains are placed in spaces like this to get rid of the fluid and create suction between the tissue planes. There is a way, however, to eliminate this space without using uncomfortable drainage tubes. Utilizing progressive tension sutures inside the tissues to close off the space and relieve tension on the last surgical closure. This results into less pain, less discomfort and less tension. Also, there will be better scarring with potentially minimizes infection risk.

We have successfully used progressive tension sutures during abdominoplasty instead of surgical drains, with a lower seroma rate than is generally thought to occur with tummy tucks and drains. With this method, the seroma rate is close to zero and you cannot beat that approach.

Dhaval M. Patel 

Double board certified 

Plastic surgeon 

Hoffman Estates 




Dhaval M. Patel, MD
Hoffman Estates Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 100 reviews

Drainless TT

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Drains vs No Drain Tummy Tuck
Plastic surgeon performing tummy tucks for more than half a century years have used drains. Recently a technique has been slowly becoming more popular using Progressive Tension Sutures (quilting stitches) to attach the superficial skin/fat to the deep muscle layer below to prevent fluid accumulation that a drain would otherwise remove. It is not fool proof (nothing is), takes a bit more time under anesthesia to place these stitches and a girdle is generally worn immediately but a drain-less Tummy Tuck seems to work well. Patients tend to like this as there is no drain care and they can shower earlier. There may be slightly more swelling, more of a chance for seroma in some but in the long run (after 1-2 months)no difference in the swelling of those with and those without drains. On the other hand use of drains in my experience is a quicker operative time, early on prevents seroma and minimizes bruising, easy and painless to remove postoperatively, no need to wear the elastic garment/girdle until the drains come out in my practice.
For those patients who choose another surgeon, the question to drain or not to drain is at the surgeon's discretion. There is no consensus at this point though most surgeons still favor drains until the output is generally about 30cc/24 hours. I individualize and if little or no liposuction at the time of a tummy tuck, a minimal or mini-tummy tuck I often do not use drains, whereas for significant liposuction with a tummy tuck and other procedures (#MommyMakeover) I most often use drains but individualize as needed.


Tummy Tuck Without Drains Vs. with Drains?

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Tummy tucks are extremely common as patients often want to restore their body to their pre-pregnancy state. There are several things that have made tummy tuck recovery much easier for patients.

One of the biggest advancements is that there are new techniques that allow your plastic surgeon to do a tummy tuck and not have to use drains. The technique is called progressive tension sutures. The sutures help secure the abdominal flap that is advanced down during your tummy tuck in position. By placing these sutures surgeons can often avoid the need for drains. This eliminates the area for the fluid to collect and your body can natural absorb what little fluid is produced as it typically does in your daily life.

Recovery from a tummy tuck is much easier without the drains as patients are able to walk after surgery without the worry of the drains being pulled on. It also avoids the pain and discomfort associated with the drains as they can irritate the skin where they exit the abdomen.

Please discuss your tummy tuck options with you plastic surgeon.

No Drain Tummy Tuck

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I have not noticed a difference in post op swelling since changing from performing tummy tucks with drains and using the No Drain Tummy Tuck procedure.  It takes an extra 20 min in the operating room to place the progressive tension sutures which allow for closure without drains, but the added time in the operating room is well worth it. At our surgery center, we transitioned to the No Drain Tummy Tuck technique a bit more than 3 years ago and have had great success with it.  Most of our patients have liposuction at the same time as well. As a matter of fact, I'm currently collecting data on more than 400 patients who had both types of tummy tucks and the no drain tummy tuck appears to have less complications, including seromas, in our preliminary data.  In addition, not having the drains for 1-2 weeks is extremely nice for the patient, as they were the source of most of the complaints of tummy tuck patients back the drain era. 

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.