General Risks and Potential Complications of Plastic Surgery
Plastic surgery has become increasingly available in Australia and around the world, offering individuals the chance to alter their appearance. However, it’s crucial to be aware that plastic surgery is not without its risks and potential complications. In this page we will discuss general risks associated with plastic surgery, focusing on the risks associated with anaesthesia and factors that can increase these risks.
General Risks of Plastic Surgery
One of the most common risks associated with any form of surgery, including plastic surgery, is the potential for postoperative infection.
How It Occurs: Infections can occur due to various factors such as poor sterilisation techniques, the presence of bacteria at the surgical site, or a weakened immune system of the patient.
Consequences: If an infection does set in, it can lead to a range of complications. These include prolonged recovery times as the body fights off the infection, the need for additional treatments like antibiotics or even further surgical intervention, and increased healthcare costs. In severe cases, an untreated infection can lead to systemic issues, sepsis, and even life-threatening conditions.
Prevention: To minimise the risk, it’s crucial to follow all preoperative and postoperative care instructions, including taking prescribed antibiotics and maintaining a clean surgical site.
Despite advancements in surgical techniques and technology, scarring remains an inherent risk in plastic surgery.
How It Occurs: Scarring occurs as part of the body’s natural healing process. However, the extent and visibility of scarring can vary widely depending on factors like the plastic surgeon’s skill, the type of procedure, and the patient’s skin type and healing ability.
Consequences: While some scars fade over time and become less noticeable, others can be more prominent and may require additional treatments like scar revision surgery or laser therapy.
Prevention: Choosing a skilled plastic surgeon and following postoperative care instructions can help minimise scarring. Some topical treatments and silicone sheets and Vitamin E can also aid in scar reduction.
Nerve damage is another potential risk that can result from plastic surgery procedures.
How It Occurs: During surgery, nerves may be stretched, compressed, or even severed, leading to symptoms like numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected area.
Consequences: While many people experience temporary symptoms that resolve over time, some may suffer from permanent nerve damage, affecting both function and sensation.
Prevention: Discussing the risk with your plastic surgeon and ensuring that you are both on the same page regarding surgical techniques can help mitigate this risk.
A haematoma is essentially a pocket of blood that accumulates in a bodily tissue or organ, resembling a large, painful bruise.
How It Occurs: Haematomas can occur due to improper wound closure, excessive physical activity too soon after surgery, or blood clotting disorders.
Consequences: A haematoma can be painful and may require additional surgical procedures to drain the accumulated blood. It can also increase the risk of infection and prolong the healing process.
Prevention: Following postoperative care instructions, including activity restrictions and the use of compression garments, can help reduce the risk of developing a hematoma.
Risks Associated with Anaesthesia
Allergic reactions to anaesthetic agents are relatively rare but can be severe when they do occur. These reactions can manifest in various ways, ranging from mild to life-threatening.
How It Occurs: Allergic reactions happen when the immune system identifies an anaesthetic agent as a harmful substance and triggers an immune response. This can happen even if you’ve had anaesthesia before without any issues.
Consequences: Mild allergic reactions may result in symptoms like skin rashes, itching, or hives. In more severe cases, an allergic reaction can escalate to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical intervention. Anaphylaxis can lead to difficulty breathing, a rapid drop in blood pressure, and even death if not promptly treated.
Prevention: Preoperative allergy testing can help identify potential allergies to anaesthetic agents. Always inform your medical team of any known allergies or previous allergic reactions to medications.
Anaesthesia can sometimes lead to respiratory complications, which, although uncommon, can be serious.
How It Occurs: Respiratory issues can arise due to the relaxation of the airway muscles, leading to conditions like bronchospasm (constriction of the airways) or aspiration (inhaling stomach contents into the lungs).
Consequences: Both bronchospasm and aspiration can be life-threatening if not promptly managed. They can lead to respiratory distress, pneumonia, or even acute respiratory failure.
Prevention: A thorough preoperative assessment, including a review of your medical history and possibly pulmonary function tests, can help identify if you’re at higher risk for respiratory complications. During surgery, skilled anaesthetists monitor respiratory function closely to catch and manage any issues as they arise.
Anaesthesia can have various effects on the cardiovascular system, some of which can lead to complications.
How It Occurs: The use of anaesthetic agents can affect heart rate, blood pressure, and cardiac output. These changes can sometimes lead to irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) or other cardiovascular issues.
Consequences: In extreme cases, anaesthesia-related cardiovascular complications can lead to myocardial infarction (heart attack) or cardiac arrest. These conditions are life-threatening and require immediate medical intervention.
Prevention: A comprehensive preoperative cardiovascular assessment can help identify patients at risk for cardiovascular complications. This may include tests like an EKG or cardiac stress test. During the procedure, continuous monitoring by the anaesthetist can help detect and manage any cardiovascular issues that may arise.
Factors that Increase the Risks of Plastic Surgery
- Pre-existing Medical Conditions: Individuals with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or respiratory issues are at a higher risk for complications
- Smoking: Smoking can significantly impair your body’s ability to heal, increasing the risk of infection, poor wound healing, and other complications
- Age: Older individuals may face increased risks due to reduced skin elasticity and slower healing processes
- Inadequate Preoperative Assessment: A thorough preoperative assessment by a qualified medical professional is essential to identify any potential risks and tailor the surgical approach accordingly
Specific Risks Associated with Tummy Tuck Surgery – Abdominoplasty
Tummy tuck surgery, also known as abdominoplasty, is a procedure aimed at removing excess skin and fat from the abdominal area. While the surgery can offer significant aesthetic benefits, it’s essential to be aware of the specific risks and complications that may arise. Below are some of the unique risks associated with abdominoplasty surgery.
· Skin Necrosis
Skin necrosis refers to the death of skin cells, which can occur due to compromised blood supply to the skin after surgery. During a tummy tuck – abdominoplasty, the skin is lifted and repositioned, which can sometimes disrupt the blood supply to certain areas, leading to skin necrosis. Affected areas may turn black or grey and may require additional surgical intervention to remove the dead tissue. This can prolong the healing process and may lead to scarring. Choosing an experienced surgeon and following postoperative care instructions can help minimise this risk. Smoking cessation is also crucial, as smoking can impair blood flow.
· Seroma Formation
A seroma is a pocket of clear fluid that can accumulate under the skin after surgery. Seromas typically form as a natural response to tissue disruption and can occur in the space created by the removal of skin and fat. While generally not life-threatening, a seroma can cause discomfort and may require drainage. If left untreated, it can lead to infection or scarring. The use of drains and compression garments post-surgery can help minimise the risk of seroma formation.
· Tissue Tightening Complications
Over-tightening of the abdominal tissues can lead to complications. If the surgeon pulls the abdominal skin too tightly during closure, it can lead to undue tension on the wound, affecting healing. Over-tightening can lead to wound separation, increased scarring, and even issues with the surrounding organs and tissues. A skilled surgeon will know how much tension to apply during closure to minimise risks.
· Numbness and Altered Sensation
Temporary or permanent changes in sensation in the abdominal area can occur post-surgery. Nerves may be stretched or cut during the surgical procedure, leading to numbness or altered sensations. While often temporary, in some cases, these changes can be permanent, affecting the quality of life. Discussing the surgical technique with your surgeon can help you understand the risks and possible preventative measures.
· Blood Clots
The formation of blood clots is a risk in any surgical procedure, including abdominoplasty. Immobility during and after surgery can lead to blood pooling and clot formation, particularly in the legs. Blood clots can travel to the lungs, heart, or brain, leading to life-threatening conditions like pulmonary embolism. Early mobilisation and the use of blood-thinning medications can help minimise this risk.
Specific Risks Associated with Body Lift Surgery
· Excessive Bleeding
Body lift surgery can result in excessive bleeding, both during and after the procedure. This can lead to complications such as haematomas or even necessitate a blood transfusion in extreme cases. Patients are usually advised to stop taking certain medications and supplements that can increase bleeding risk before the surgery.
Given the extensive nature of body lift surgery, scarring is almost inevitable. The size and visibility of scars can vary depending on the surgical technique used and individual healing characteristics. While some scars may fade over time, others can be permanent and may require additional treatments for improvement.
· Skin Necrosis
Skin necrosis, or the death of skin cells, is another risk associated with body lift surgery. This occurs when the blood supply to the repositioned skin is compromised, leading to the death of skin tissue. Skin necrosis can require additional surgical intervention and can lead to significant scarring.
· Pulmonary and Cardiac Complications
Due to the extensive nature of body lift surgery, patients are at risk for pulmonary and cardiac complications. These can range from blood clots that can lead to a pulmonary embolism to cardiac issues such as arrhythmias or even heart attack. Preoperative assessments and continuous monitoring during surgery can help mitigate these risks.
Specific Risks Associated with Breast Augmentation Surgery
· Capsular Contracture
One of the most common complications following breast augmentation is capsular contracture. This occurs when the scar tissue that naturally forms around the implant tightens, causing the breast to feel hard. In severe cases, it can distort the shape of the breast and cause discomfort. You might need additional surgery to remove the scar tissue and possibly replace the implant.
· Implant Rupture or Leakage
Breast implants aren’t designed to last a lifetime; they can rupture or leak over time. If a saline implant ruptures, the body will naturally absorb the saline solution. However, if a silicone implant ruptures, the silicone can spread into the breast tissue, requiring surgical removal. Either way, you’ll likely need a follow-up operation to replace the damaged implant.
· Nipple Sensation Changes
After breast augmentation, some women experience changes in nipple sensation. While some may experience increased sensitivity, others might find that their nipples become numb. These changes can be temporary or, in rare cases, permanent.
No one’s body is perfectly symmetrical, but breast augmentation can sometimes exacerbate natural asymmetries or create new ones. This could be due to uneven positioning of the implants or differences in how each breast heals. You might need a touch-up procedure to correct any noticeable asymmetry.
· Breastfeeding Difficulties
If you’re planning on having kids down the track, it’s worth noting that breast augmentation can sometimes make breastfeeding more challenging. While most women can still breastfeed after getting implants, there’s a risk that milk production could be affected.
Risks Associated with Breast Reduction Surgery
One of the most common complications following breast reduction surgery is scarring. The extent and visibility of the scars can vary depending on the surgical technique used and the patient’s individual healing process. While some scars may fade over time, others can be more permanent and may require additional treatments for improvement.
· Nipple Sensation Changes
Changes in nipple sensation are a potential complication of breast reduction surgery. Some patients may experience numbness, while others could have increased sensitivity. These changes can be temporary, but in some cases, they may become permanent.
Breast reduction surgery aims to create a more balanced and proportional breast size, but there’s a risk that the results may be asymmetrical. This could be due to uneven tissue removal or differences in the healing process. Corrective surgery may be necessary to address significant asymmetry.
· Breastfeeding Difficulties
If you plan to breastfeed in the future, it’s essential to discuss this with your plastic surgeon, as breast reduction surgery can impact your ability to breastfeed. The surgery often involves the removal of glandular tissue and may disrupt milk ducts, potentially affecting milk production.
· Loss of Nipple and Areola
In extreme cases, the blood supply to the nipple and areola may be compromised during surgery, leading to tissue necrosis. This is a severe complication that may require additional surgical intervention and could result in the loss of the nipple and areola.
Risks Associated with Breast Lift Surgery
One of the most common complications following a breast lift is scarring. While some scars may fade over time, others can be more permanent and may require additional treatments like laser therapy for improvement.
· Changes in Nipple Sensation
Breast lift surgery can result in changes in nipple sensation, which may include numbness or increased sensitivity. While these changes are often temporary, they can sometimes become permanent, affecting both sensation and function.
Breast lifts aim to create a more balanced appearance, but there’s a risk that the results may be asymmetrical. This could be due to uneven tissue removal or differences in the healing process. In some cases, corrective surgery may be necessary to address significant asymmetry.
· Breastfeeding Difficulties
If you plan to breastfeed in the future, it’s essential to discuss this with your plastic surgeon, as a breast lift can impact your ability to breastfeed. The surgery may involve the repositioning of the nipple and areola, which could affect milk ducts and glandular tissue, potentially impacting milk production.
Medical References about Risks of Plastic Surgery
- What to Know About Plastic Surgery Risks – WebMD
- Plastic Surgery: Types, Benefits & Potential Complications
- Cosmetic surgery – Mayo Clinic
About Dr Jake Lim
Highly qualified and experienced specialist plastic surgeon Dr Jake Lim focuses on facial plastic, cosmetic breast and body contouring after significant weight loss
Dr Lim creates the best possible plastic surgery results for his Australia-wide and international patients.
Dr Lim is passionate about making sure each and every patient has access to the right information about available treatments and procedures and is able to make well-informed decisions.
At My Klinik, patient safety, education and achieving optimal results are our top priorities.