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Tummy Tucks 101

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Dr. Aisha White, Quintessence Plastic Surgery

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What’s the difference between a tummy tuck and liposuction?

People don’t always understand the difference. Liposuction is a fat-debulking procedure that decreases the amount of fat you have. If you’re young and have good-quality skin, when we remove the fat, the skin should spring back. Skin has the amazing ability to adapt. Conversely, a tummy tuck is meant to address a loose-skin issue. It’s important to note that a tummy tuck is a body-contouring procedure, not a weight-loss procedure, which is a common misconception. We can combine a tummy tuck with a liposuction procedure to address the issue with fat and the issue with loose skin. For younger people, they can often just opt for liposuction without the tummy tuck. Sometimes patients want what we call a mommy makeover, which includes a breast-rejuvenation procedure along with a tummy tuck. That’s a great combo procedure for moms who feel their breasts have become droopy after having kids and want a lift, or a lift and augmentation, and a tummy tuck. You can lose fat in two ways: with diet and exercise or, to a certain extent, with the knife. But there’s no way to exercise your way out of loose skin.

Are there any risks associated with a tummy-tuck procedure?

We always want people to be healthy prior to a procedure. But for the most part, it’s a safe procedure. If a patient has a medical condition, say diabetes, we want to make sure it’s well-controlled because she could be at a higher risk for infection. Otherwise, most people will have scars that heal well. For someone who’s prone to significant scarring, she may want to consider that before having a tummy tuck. There are also varying degrees of tummy tuck, and depending on the patient, she could end up with an extended C-section-type scar, but most of the time, a tummy-tuck patient will have a  hip-to-hip scar that is hidden by underwear.

Is it OK to have a tummy tuck prior to getting pregnant?

A tummy tuck is not recommended for women prior to pregnancy. During a tummy-tuck procedure, we tighten the abdominal muscles. But those muscles get stretched apart in pregnancy and they don’t always come back together. Worst-case scenario, if you get pregnant after a tummy tuck, you could be at risk of having the muscles and skin stretch back out. In the end, that procedure could be a waste of money for the patient.

What kind of down time can I expect after receiving a tummy tuck? Can I immediately go back to my active lifestyle?

For tummy-tuck procedures, you usually have a good four to six weeks of recovery. If you try to do strenuous activity, your sutures could rupture, so it’s important to heed your doctor’s advice and take it easy during this recovery period. In the first couple of weeks, patients can expect some pain, soreness and tightness. After the two-week mark, you’re close to feeling back to yourself, but in reality, you still have a month of recovery to go, and that means no core exercises and no running. People are often very happy with the results after surgery, but it can be stressful for some patients when they can’t be as active as normal right after surgery. People who already have good habits should easily be able to get back to their goal weight after recovery. I suggest patients simply be careful and aware of what they’re eating during that period.

How do I determine what procedure I need?

This comes back to the importance of good communication between the doctor and the patient. A patient may come in asking for a tummy tuck when what she really wants is a liposuction procedure. That’s why it’s the doctor’s responsibility to ask lots of questions about what the patient’s concerns are and what’s bothering her before just jumping into a procedure. I want you to tell me in your words what the problem is so I can know what procedure you really want and why. Maybe you come in saying you want a breast lift, but when we start talking about your concerns, the actual procedure and the potential for specific scars, you may realize you’d prefer an implant procedure instead. Those kinds of discussions are incredibly important for me to have with each individual patient. I owe patients the honest answer.

Dr. Aisha White is a board-certified plastic surgeon specializing in breast surgery (including breast augmentation, breast lift and breast reduction) and cosmetic surgery of the face and body.

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