A tummy tuck is a major surgical procedure. Fortunately, most patients have few problems, but there are some serious complications that can occur.
Surgery is carried out under general anaesthesia and typically lasts around 3 hours. We do not use drains, and there is no requirement to wear a pressure garment.
Possible general complications include an unexpected reaction to the anaesthetic, chest infection or developing a blood clot, usually in a vein in the leg (deep vein thrombosis, DVT). A DVT can cause problems if the clot spreads to the lungs (pulmonary embolus), then the outcome can be fatal. Fortunately, the incidence of pulmonary embolism after abdominoplasty is infrequent (under 1 in 100 patients). You will have a risk assessment during your pre-assessment, and we take precautions to reduce the risks of DVT. These include stockings, mechanical pumps that keep the circulation going in your legs, and blood thinning injections where appropriate.
The risk of having an adverse complication under a general anaesthetic is approximately 1 in 100,000.
Complications specific to tummy tuck include:
Infection – This might require treatment with antibiotics. Very rarely infection can be serious and result in you becoming unwell and require an operation to wash out the abdomen. In severe cases, this can result in loss of skin or the inability to close the wounds.
Bleeding (haematoma) – This might require a return to theatre to stop the bleeding and drain the area (risk less than 5 in 100).
Delayed wound healing – Particularly in the tighter central part of the wound. Sometimes dressings are needed for a few weeks. This is more common in patients who are overweight and who smoke.
Seroma – Is a collection of serous (straw coloured) fluid under your skin. The fluid can be drained with a needle during your post-operative visits. Such drainage generally stops eventually (but may last for more than a month) and does not affect the final cosmetic outcome. The incidence of seroma is between 7-10 out of every 100 patients.
Poor scarring – Scars are permanent. They can remain red, thickened and itchy (hypertrophic scars). These can take several months to settle down. The scars may stretch with time.
Numbness – This is usually temporary but can be permanent.
Change in shape of the belly button (umbilicus) – Your belly button will be brought out through the skin once the skin has been pulled down. This will result in a different shape and a scar around the umbilicus.
Asymmetry – Perfect symmetry does not exist before or after abdominoplasty surgery. Scars will never be identical from side to side, and the umbilicus may not be exactly in the midline.
Revision surgery – Occasionally, revision surgery may be required if the outcome is unsatisfactory. Better outcomes are achieved when patients are at their ideal body weight.