A tummy tuck can get rid of flabby skin and firm up your abdomen, but there are risk factors to consider.

Tummy tuck surgery, also known as abdominoplasty, is cosmetic surgery that removes flabby skin to create a firmer abdomen.

“There are two types of patients interested in tummy tucks,” said Alex K. Wong, MD, associate professor of surgery in the Department of Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, who specializes in aesthetic surgery. “The first is someone who has lost a lot of weight – up to 200-250 pounds – either on their own with diet and exercise or with bariatric surgery. This leaves a big flap of skin that makes it hard to wear pants because it doesn’t fit anywhere. The flap can also get moist, causing fungal infections.

“The second type is someone who wants a ‘mommy makeover.’ After women are finished with their pregnancies, they want to tighten up their abdominal muscles and remove the extra skin. Some women even opt to have breast implants at the same time as getting a tummy tuck. For this procedure, we can remove extra abdominal tissue between the belly button and waistline – the tissue that is usually thrown away for a tummy tuck – and use it to form a new breast.”

Risk factors to consider

Some patients have a higher risk of complication. If you are a smoker, diabetic or malnourished, you have a higher risk of complications with tummy tuck surgery. These include breathing problems, reactions to medicines, infection, blood clots and bleeding.

But, according to Dr. Wong, tummy tucks are safer than ever, thanks to new techniques in muscle reconstruction and post-surgery care.

“We are trying to limit or eliminate the use of drains after surgery, and new pain catheters can be inserted right at the muscle to significantly reduce pain, which decreases dependence on pain medications,” he said. “It’s usually not the surgery that causes complications; it’s the anesthesia, and that is also improving.”

What to expect

After surgery, your abdomen is wrapped with bandages to minimize swelling and support the muscles. Your doctor will provide you with medications and instructions on caring for your wound. Expect pain and discomfort for several days; you will need to rest with your legs and hips bent to reduce the pressure on your abdomen. While you can return to work in two to four weeks, avoid strenuous activity for four to six weeks.

You will also have a large scar. “The biggest misconception is that you won’t have a scar,” Dr. Wong said. In reality, the scar stretches from hip to hip, but “it is well-hidden in the bikini line. There is also a tiny scar around your belly button,” he said. Over time your scar will become flatter and lighter in color.

Most patients undergo tummy tucks expecting a change in size. “You won’t go from a size 14 to a size 2,” Dr. Wong said, “but two dress sizes and at least five or six inches in the waist is very reasonable to expect.”

By Heidi Tyline King 

Looking for a board-certified plastic surgeon that can advise you on your tummy tuck? If you are local to Southern California, schedule an appointment with one of the experts at Keck Medicine of USC by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visiting www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.