Plastic surgery has come a long way since it was first used by Harold Gilles to reconstruct injured soldiers’ faces during the first world war. The techniques have improved tremendously, with most procedures producing excellent results with low risks. However, this is an invasive procedure and like all other invasive procedures, there are some risks associated with plastic surgery.
Understanding some of the complications that can occur can help you make informed decisions and take necessary precautions when considering any plastic surgery procedure.
Infection is one of the most common complications in any surgical procedure, including plastic surgery. Despite the sterile environment maintained during surgery and the stringent postoperative care, infections can still occur post-operatively due to a variety of reasons. Most infections are mild, in rare instances, they can be more severe.
Symptoms of infection may include increased pain, swelling, redness, and discharge from the incision site. To reduce the risk of infection, surgeons prescribe antibiotics and provide patients with detailed post-op care instructions. Following your doctor’s prescription and advice is key to preventing severe complications.
A hematoma is caused when blood accumulated under the skin, causing the area to look like a large painful bruise. This complication can lead to discoloration at the site along with increased pain and swelling. Hematoma formation is a risk in any invasive procedure, minor or major, and a cosmetic surgeon will always take precautions to minimise the risks.
Small hematomas may resolve on their own, while larger ones may need to be drained out, which usually involves another procedure carried out under anaesthesia.
Similar to a hematoma, a seroma is a pocket of fluid that collects under the skin after surgery. It usually occurs when lymphatic vessels are disrupted during the procedure.
Seromas can cause discomfort and swelling, while also delaying wound healing. If left untreated, they can become infected. To prevent this from occurring, the surgeon may drain the fluid with a needle or surgically remove it. Depending on the area where the procedure was carried out using compression garments and other preventive measures can help reduce the risk of seroma formation.
Scarring is an inherent complication associated with any surgical procedure, including plastic surgery negligence. As these procedures aim to improve the patient’s looks, scars are seen as a major setback. However, scarring is not limited to marring a person’s appearance. Severe scarring can also hinder natural movement, depending on where it occurs.
While surgeons go to great lengths to minimise scarring through meticulous techniques, individual healing factors can influence the outcome. Some patients may develop hypertrophic scars or keloids, which are thick, raised scars that may be itchy or painful. Proper wound care, scar massage, silicone sheets, and other treatments can help improve the appearance of scars over time.
Plastic surgery procedures may carry the risk of nerve damage, leading to altered sensation or loss of sensation in the affected area. Tingling or numbness are common sensations after a plastic surgery procedure. Both are signs of nerve damage. This complication may be temporary or permanent, depending on the extent of nerve injury.
Although surgeons do employ go to painstaking lengths to conduct thorough pre-operative assessments to minimise the risks, the potential for nerve damage is always present in any type of invasive procedure. No surgeon can or will give you 100% assurance that you won’t experience nerve damage after your procedure.
Complications Of Anaesthesia
Plastic surgery procedures are always carried out under anaesthesia so that the patient doesn’t feel pain. Depending on the type and extent of the procedure, the anaesthesia may be local or general. Local anaesthesia is virtually complication-free as only the site is numbed and the patient is awake throughout. On the other hand, general anaesthesia has a higher risk of complication as it involves making the patient unconscious.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Pulmonary Embolism (PE)
Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the legs. If the clot dislodges and travels to the lungs, it can cause a potentially life-threatening condition known as pulmonary embolism (PE).
The risk of DVT and PE increases with lengthy plastic surgery procedures due to prolonged immobility. Surgeons take various preventive measures to minimise the risks, particularly when the procedure is expected to be lengthy. They may use compression stockings, prescribe blood thinners, or encourage early ambulation after surgery, depending on the circumstances and the patient’s medical history.
Longer Than Expected Healing Time
Healing times vary considerably from one person to another. Two people undergoing the very same procedure may heal at completely different times, depending on their physiology. If your body takes longer than expected to heal, it can prevent you from staying on schedule with your plans. This could mean lost opportunities professionally as well as personally.
What You Can Do To Minimise Plastic Surgery Complications
Choosing your cosmetic surgeon carefully may be the single best thing you can do to prevent any plastic surgery complications. Here are some things you can do:
- Verify qualifications. Check that the surgeon is registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) and ideally part of a professional body or bodies such as the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) or the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS).
- Specialisation. Choose a cosmetic surgeon who has expertise in the procedure you want.
- Check their work. Review their before-and-after photos to understand their style and skill.
- Read reviews. Look at testimonials from past patients for insight into their experience.
- Book a consultation. Here they should clearly communicate the procedure details with you, any associated risks, and set realistic expectations.
- Comfort level. Choose a surgeon you feel comfortable with and who addresses all your concerns.
- Price. While the cost of cosmetic surgery is a consideration, it shouldn’t compromise the surgeon’s qualifications and experience.
It’s always a good idea to take your time, do your research, and perhaps even consult with more than one surgeon before making your final decision.
Importantly, following your surgeon’s post-op care instructions to the letter, is just as important when it comes to minimising complications.