Risks and Complications of Plastic Surgery
Plastic surgery encompasses a vast range of procedures, both cosmetic and reconstructive. Regardless of the type or extent of the procedure, there are risks associated with undergoing plastic surgery, and it is important to understand these risks upfront.
This page is intended to serve as an educational resource. By outlining the general risks and complications associated with plastic surgery, we aim to provide our patients with the essential knowledge needed to make fully informed decisions regarding your care.
Understanding Risks and Complications
In the context of plastic surgery, risks refer to the potential adverse events or undesired outcomes that are known to be associated with a procedure, but that may or may not happen in an individual case. Risks are inherent to every surgical procedure, no matter how minor.
Complications are unplanned and undesirable developments that may occur during or after a procedure. They can sometimes be the result of risks materialising, but they can also arise unexpectedly, unrelated to known risks. Complications may necessitate additional care, prolonged recovery or further medical intervention to resolve.
The General Risks and Complications of Plastic Surgery
Some of the general risks and complications that apply to any plastic surgery procedure are listed below. In addition to these general risks, there are risks specific to each individual surgical and nonsurgical procedure. These are discussed at length during the consultation and preoperative planning process.
Infection — Infection occurs when bacteria enter the surgical wound. Proper wound care is essential to reduce the risk of infections, which can range from mild to severe.
Bleeding — Some blood loss is expected with surgery, but excessive bleeding during or after an operation is a potential complication.
Haematoma — Haematoma refers to a collection or pocket of blood that forms outside blood vessels, resembling a large bruise. A haematoma may need to be drained.
Seroma — Seroma refers to the accumulation of fluid under the skin at the surgical site. While usually not dangerous, it might require drainage.
Scarring — All surgeries leave scars. The extent and visibility of scarring depend on the surgical technique, individual healing response and postoperative care.
Adverse Reaction to Anaesthesia — All types of anaesthesia carry their own risks. The risks associated with general anaesthesia range from mild nausea to severe allergic responses, and in rare cases, life-threatening complications.
Allergic Reactions — Allergic reactions can occur in response to medications or materials used during or after the surgery (such as suture materials, surgical glue or surgical tape).
Blood Clots — Blood can coagulate and form clots, posing the risk of them travelling to critical areas like the lungs (pulmonary embolism) or brain (stroke), which can be serious and life-threatening.
Nerve Damage — Nerves may be damaged or affected during surgery, potentially leading to numbness, tingling, pain and other sensory or motor impairments, some of which may be irreversible.
Skin Discolouration: Postoperative changes in skin pigment can occur. They are generally temporary but can be permanent in some instances.
Change in Skin Sensation — Altered sensation or loss of sensitivity in the surgical area may occur. It is usually temporary but can be permanent in some instances.
Prolonged Pain — Some patients may experience pain longer than the usual recovery period, necessitating advanced pain management strategies.
Damage to Nearby Structures — Surgical instruments can potentially damage surrounding structures and tissues, such as blood vessels, nerves or internal organs.
Unsatisfactory Results — Despite a surgeon’s best efforts, the outcome of the surgery might not meet the patient’s expectations. This may lead to the patient choosing to undergo additional procedures or revisions.
Complications from Underlying Medical Conditions — Pre-existing health conditions like diabetes or heart disease can increase the risk of complications during or after surgery.
Psychological Distress — The stress of surgery and the recovery period can have a substantial impact on a patient’s mental well-being, including the development of anxiety or depression.
Poor Wound Healing — Sometimes, the surgical wound may not heal as expected, leading to delayed wound healing or wound dehiscence (wound breaking open).
Necrosis — Necrosis refers to the death of body tissue due to lack of blood supply. This can occur as a result of a surgical procedure or by issues that arise postoperatively.
Death — Death is a rare but real risk with any surgical procedure, usually resulting from complications like severe reactions to anaesthesia or blood clots.
Factors Influencing Plastic Surgery Risks and Complications
Every surgical procedure is unique, influenced by diverse factors that can elevate or mitigate the risk level. Acknowledging the variables, such as those described below, is a crucial part of setting expectations and establishing a proactive approach to minimise possible adverse outcomes.
Different procedures and techniques have different levels of risk. In general, less invasive procedures have fewer and milder risks, while more invasive procedures have more and more significant risks. Risks can be reduced but not eliminated.
A patient’s past and present health status significantly impacts the risk profile of a surgical procedure. Transparent disclosure of all health-related information is vital for preoperative planning and risk management.
The role of lifestyle choices in producing favourable surgical outcomes cannot be overstated. For example, smoking can impair blood flow, increasing the risk of complications during and after surgery, while excessive alcohol consumption can impair immune function and wound healing.
Patient adherence to postoperative instructions is critical for mitigating risks and ensuring a smooth recovery process. This includes proper wound care, compliance with medication regimens and activity restrictions, and attendance of follow-up appointments.
Surgeon’s Experience and Qualifications
The qualifications and experience of the plastic surgeon contribute greatly to reducing the risk of complications. A competent specialist plastic surgeon can accurately assess a patient’s suitability for surgery, execute procedures with precision and skilfully manage complications if they arise.
How to Manage and Mitigate the Risks of Plastic Surgery
Surgery is a collaborative endeavour between the surgeon and patient. Embracing this shared responsibility allows you to actively participate in your experience and increase the likelihood of a safe and satisfying outcome. You can do this by:
- Selecting a specialist plastic surgeon with the right credentials and extensive experience
- Ensuring that the facility where your surgery will take place is properly accredited
- Reading all documents provided to you during the preoperative stage
- Being proactive about improving your health while preparing your body for surgery
- Discussing your medical history honestly and thoroughly
- Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated
- Diligently following all preoperative and postoperative instructions from your care team
- Avoiding substances that can impede healing, such as tobacco and alcohol
- Avoiding certain medications and supplements before your surgery
- Attending all follow-up appointments as scheduled
- Maintaining open communication about any concerns or abnormalities observed during recovery
- Resuming basic activities as soon as possible, but easing into strenuous activities gently
- Being your own advocate — asking questions, seeking clarifications and expressing concerns if they arise
The Importance of Informed Consent
Informed consent is a foundational tenet in the practice of medicine, particularly in elective disciplines like cosmetic surgery. It is not merely a formality but a comprehensive process designed to ensure that patients understand the following:
- The exact nature of their aesthetic concern or medical condition
- The process of the proposed treatment or procedure
- Any alternative treatments or procedures that may be available
- The risks of the proposed and alternative treatments or procedures
- Realistic expectations for the outcome of the treatment or procedure
Dr Choy values and prioritises the informed consent process. He believes in conducting comprehensive consultations wherein every aspect of the procedure is discussed in detail, from the surgical technique and potential risks to the recovery process and results expectations. This is complemented by ongoing support and open lines of communication, providing patients a constant source of guidance.
Request a Consultation for More Information
Choosing to undergo plastic surgery requires careful consideration. Dr Choy and his team aim to foster an environment of trust, transparency and open communication, so that patients are empowered to make decisions that suit their individual circumstances and desires.
To schedule your consultation with Dr Choy, submit an enquiry here or call us on 02 8962 9388. We look forward to assisting you in making well-informed choices and supporting your decisions with compassion, expertise and utmost care.
The information provided on this page is intended to offer a general overview of the risks and complications associated with plastic surgery. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or definitive guide. Individual risks can vary greatly, and this content does not replace the need for a detailed consultation with Dr Choy or another qualified specialist plastic surgeon.
Only a consultation can provide you with personalised advice, assessments and information tailored to your unique situation. We strongly emphasise the importance of individual consultations to obtain precise and relevant advice before making any decisions about plastic surgery. Second opinions are also encouraged.