All surgery has associated risks, and it’s important you understand these risks upfront. That way, you can decide whether you are comfortable with the risks, and you will be more prepared and knowledgeable should you experience any complications after your surgery.
Below outlines some general information around plastic surgery risks and complications, but be sure to consult with your board-certified aesthetic plastic surgeon for information specific to you and your surgery. Your surgeon’s goal is to make your surgical experience as safe and comfortable as possible. Qualified and thorough surgeons will provide you with detailed information regarding your specific procedure to help you reduce your risks.
- Different procedures have different levels of risk. In general, quick procedures have fewer risks, and more invasive procedures have more significant risks (see procedure invasiveness). Most surgeries require an incision (or several incisions with more invasive procedures). When cutting the skin, there is a possibility of excess bleeding, and until the incision fully heals, there is a possibility of contracting an infection.
- You can reduce your risks, but you can’t eliminate them. Qualified surgeons take steps to minimize risk, but even if your surgeon performs everything perfectly, there is still a small chance that a complication may occur.
- Smoking can increase your risk of complications. If you are a smoker, your surgeon will ask you to stop smoking in advance of your surgery.
- Hydrating and a healthy diet can decrease your risk of complications. Following a healthy lifestyle can not only minimize your risks but also speed up your recovery. Be sure to speak with your surgeon about any specific diet recommendations you should follow before and after your surgery.
- You’ll need to avoid some medications before your surgery. Aspirin and certain anti-inflammatory drugs can cause increased bleeding, so you should avoid taking these medications for a period of time before and after your surgery. Your surgeon will let you know if there are any other medications you should start or stop taking and how far in advance.
- Where you have your procedure matters. Your surgery will be performed either in a hospital, a freestanding ambulatory facility, or an accredited office-based surgical suite. If a surgeon suggests performing your surgery anywhere else, consider it a red flag. (see facility accreditation)
- The medical team will administer medications for your comfort and safety during your surgical procedure. Depending on the procedure and your comfort level, you may achieve pain relief with local anesthesia, intravenous sedation, or sometimes general anesthesia. For your safety during the operation, the medical team will use various monitors to check your heart, blood pressure, pulse, and the amount of oxygen circulating in your blood.
- You may have excess fluid after your surgery around your incision sites that will require drains. After any surgery, your body will respond by creating fluid around the operative region. You may notice the fluid as edema (soft swelling of the skin), or if your surgeon made a cavity during the surgery, it could manifest as a seroma (a fluid collection under the skin). In surgeries where a seroma occurs, your surgeon may place drains to remove the fluid.
- Incisions take time to heal. All incisions made during surgery need to heal, and occasionally, delayed healing can occur. Smoking and vascular conditions are known to slow down healing, so it is important that you are forthcoming during your preoperative interview and compliant with refraining from smoking during your pre and post-operative period.
- Blood clots are a complication that can be life-threatening. Blood clots to the lungs (pulmonary emboli) can be life-threatening, but there are steps to reduce the chance of this occurring. The risk is higher in procedures with long operative times, and your surgeon can reduce this risk by using compression devices during surgery. Soon after your operation, your surgeon will encourage you to resume walking, as walking reduces the chance of blood clots.
- Excessive bruising or significant bleeding can occur. Variable amounts of bruising are possible, and occasionally there can be significant bleeding after surgery which requires additional operative intervention for treatment. These issues may prolong the visible recovery period (due to more extensive bruising). With very extensive operations, your surgeon may explore the possibility of a blood transfusion if excessive bleeding occurs.
- You will need to ease back into physical activity. In general, it is good to avoid strenuous activities for the first few weeks after surgery. Your surgeon will provide specific instructions tailored to your individual procedure, and you should follow them to achieve the best outcome. After any operation, it is important to resume basic activities as soon as possible, including going to the dinner table to eat and walking yourself to the restroom. A minimal amount of walking activity is enough to significantly reduce the risk of blood clot formation in your legs. However, you should avoid strenuous activities (such as running or weight lifting) until your surgeon feels they are safe to resume.
- You may experience numbness. It is normal to have some numbness near your scars, as skin incisions divide small sensory nerves. Sometimes, you may experience numbness in the broader regions around your scars, depending on how extensively your surgeon moved body tissues to achieve the desired surgical changes. Typically, sensation will return over a period of months as the small nerve endings heal back into their correct locations.
- Results aren’t always permanent. Your results’ longevity will depend on the specific procedure you received and how you care for your body after. The best way to maintain your surgical results is to protect your skin’s elastic properties (avoid smoking, wear sun protection, and maintain a stable weight). Aside from prolonging the desired effects of your surgery, these practices are good for your overall health.
If you have any additional questions about plastic surgery risks and complications, you should feel empowered to ask your surgeon or use our ask a surgeon feature. If you have an open and honest relationship with a qualified aesthetic plastic surgeon, you will be better prepared and more likely to have a positive outcome.