Written by Shawn Candela for Avima.com
There is no such thing as guaranteed safe plastic surgery, but while most cosmetic surgery goes off without a hitch, some procedures demand more forethought than others.
Take the tummy tuck, or abdominoplasty. The procedure is meant to get rid of excess fat and skin and make the patient’s stomach look firm and smooth. To do so, a surgeon must make an incision in the stomach area to repair and tighten the abdominal muscles. He also might need to make another incision near the belly button to remove excess skin.
The problem is that this kind of tightening is unnatural and forces the patient to stay in a relatively cramped position while he recovers. This in turn causes the blood in the surgical area to become sluggish and clot. When it is released, the clot can move into the patient’s lungs. This is a particular concern for overweight patients, older patients, those on hormones and those with a history of cancer.
A similarly potentially dangerous procedure is liposuction, especially when done on a large scale. Any liposuction procedure carries a number of risks, from bruising and changes in skin sensation to swelling and the need for additional surgery to revise issues resulting from the first. In some rare cases, an internal organ might be punctured during the procedure, or a piece of loosened fat can get stuck in a blood vessel and eventually work its way to the brain, causing an embolism and the need for emergency surgery.
Of most concern in liposuction procedure is when a large amount of fat is removed at once. Such work can result in a major shift in the body’s fluids, which can in turn bring blood loss, dehydration and even hypovolemic shock, a potentially life-threatening complication in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to the patient’s body.
Even some seemingly less-invasive cosmetic surgery procedures can carry considerable risk, especially when they are performed on more delicate parts of the body, such as the face. Eyelid surgery, facelifts, rhinoplasty (nose jobs), bone structure alterations and facial implants can be particularly worrisome because of the delicate features involved. Even the slightest mistake can lead to major issues.
The risks involved in work around the face include numbness and scarring; damage to the eyes, nerves and other areas of the face that can result in near-constant pain; loss of motor control; and speech and vision impairment. Rhinoplasty can cause respiratory problems and nosebleeds. One particularly popular but potentially dangerous procedure is liquid facial silicone injections. While in the right hands, the procedure should cause no problems, many people without proper medical training also offer liquid silicone injections. This can lead to an over-injection of silicone, which can cause not only disfigurement, but also the risk of an infection and a foreign-body reaction.
A relatively new addition to the cosmetic surgery realm is also one of the most dangerous: the Brazilian butt lift, a procedure meant to give the average person a larger derrière, like that boasted by some recent celebrities. The danger lies in the fact that either a person’s own fat is removed from one location and then injected into her backside or a filler like silicone is used. In the former instance, the main risk lies in the injection: If done incorrectly, the fat can end up being injected into muscle, which can lead to muscle necrosis (muscle death) and even cardiac arrest. In the latter — the use of a synthetic substance — the dangers run from scarring and cysts to infection.
Another recent trend that has raised concern is what is known as plastic surgery tourism, in which people seeking a lower-priced alternative travel outside of the United States to get work done. The problem is that while such a strategy might be good for the pocketbook, it can be considerably dangerous to the patient.
The human body requires time to convalesce after any surgery, but these “vacation”-themed trips tend to encourage travel-type activities, despite the risks involved. These activities, however seemingly tame, can lead to post-surgery complications. And even if recover time is allowed, the trip back home can carry risk: Long flights in particularly bring the threat of blood clotting and pulmonary embolisms.
What’s more, once a patient returns home, there’s little legal recourse should setbacks occur. The United States has no legal jurisdiction in other countries when it comes to mandating a surgeon’s qualifications or receiving remuneration if anything goes wrong. The potential savings gleaned from going elsewhere for the procedure could be turned on their head if follow-up procedures become necessary.