Side Effects of a Tummy Tuck

Surgeon in operating room, portrait
Close up of a doctor amidst a group of surgeons (Image: Thomas Northcut/DigitalVision/Getty Images)

A tummy tuck, or abdominoplasty, is a major surgical procedure that involves removal of excess skin and fat and restoration of weakened or separated muscles in the abdominal region. While a complete abdominoplasty is performed on those needing the most correction, a mini- or partial abdominoplasty may be performed on those needing shorter incisions whose fat deposits lie primarily under the naval, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Common side effects can vary in intensity and duration. Rarely, serious side effects can occur.

Common Side Effects

Individuals who have had a tummy tuck may experience some common side effects that can persist for a few weeks or even months. In the days following surgery, pain and swelling are likely to occur. Numbness and bruising are also common. These symptoms are sometimes severe enough to require painkillers or other prescription medications. Patients are advised to avoid strenuous activity for six weeks or more to allow for proper healing, and this prolonged healing process can lead some to feel fatigued, emotionally drained or just otherwise not themselves, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Slow Healing and Scarring

According to the Cleveland Clinic, some patients may experience insufficient healing. Poor healing can lead to significant scarring, loss of skin or the need for a second surgery. Even among those who do heal normally, the scars caused by a tummy tuck may be prominent. In some cases, these scars will fade slightly over time, but they will never disappear. Certain topical creams may be prescribed by your surgeon to help reduce this scarring.

Bleeding and Infection

While a small amount of bleeding and leakage may normally occur around the wound site following a tummy tuck, bleeding under the skin flap can sometimes become severe and require prompt medical attention to prevent significant blood loss or other complications.

Infection is also possible, and, if not treated promptly, the infection may spread throughout the body. Signs of an infection can include fever, chills, weakness, general malaise (feeling ill) and sweating. To help reduce the risk of infection, it is important to keep the wound clean by following the surgeon’s instructions for cleaning the affected area and regularly changing its dressings. If infection is left untreated, the fatty tissue in the area of the wound may die (fatty necrosis), leading to skin loss and the possibility of spreading infection, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Other Serious Side Effects

Though rare, serious side effects can occur as a result of undergoing surgery for a tummy tuck. Blood clots may develop in some people, and individuals who smoke or who have pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes or heart, lung or liver disease are at increased risk of developing blood clots, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Blood clots that form and stay in a blood vessel can interfere with blood flow to various parts of the body. If the clot dislodges and travels to the brain, heart or lungs, it can lead to a stroke, heart attack or sudden death.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons notes that other serious side effects that may occur include fluid accumulation in the extremities or abdomen, persistent swelling in the legs, nerve damage and aesthetic side effects such as skin discoloration and prolonged swelling around the wound, recurrent looseness of skin and asymmetries and unevenness of skin in the abdominal region.

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