Is a Tummy Tuck Right for You?

Outpatient procedure results in firmer, flatter belly

Woman shows belly fat before scheduling a tummy tuck procedure.

Outpatient procedure results in firmer, flatter belly

Pregnancy, significant weight loss, and sometimes simple genetics can leave some people with excess fat and skin around the abdominal area — even if the rest of the body is slim and toned.

This stubborn abdominal bulge can be frustrating, especially when no amount of diet or exercise seems to reduce it.

Abdominoplasty — more commonly known as a tummy tuck — is a surgical procedure that removes excess abdominal fat and skin. Depending on the individual, a tummy tuck may also rebuild muscles that have become weakened or separated due to pregnancy or trauma. The result is firmer, flatter and more contoured abdomen.

Salvatore Pacella, MD, division head of plastic surgery at Scripps Clinic Del Mar and Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo, answers a four frequently asked questions about tummy tuck surgery.

1. Who is a good candidate for a tummy tuck procedure?

“The ideal candidate has no major medical issues and is at a healthy, stable weight, but is unhappy with extra skin or fat around their abdomen,” says Dr. Pacella. “Many of our patients are women who have given birth and no matter what they do, they can’t get rid of that tummy bulge.”

Having realistic expectations about what the surgery can and cannot do is important. While a tummy tuck can give a firmer and flatter appearance, it is not a substitute for weight loss or exercise. Generally, it does not improve the appearance of stretch marks, unless the marks are on the skin that is to be removed during surgery.

If you are planning to lose a significant amount of weight, or are planning to get pregnant, hold off on the procedure until your weight has stabilized.

2. How is a tummy tuck done?

A full tummy tuck to tighten the abdominal wall muscles and remove excess skin is performed under general anesthesia.

The surgeon makes an incision across the abdomen between the pubic bone and belly button to lift the skin and repair the abdominal wall muscles. The upper abdominal skin is then pulled down over the muscles and excess skin is removed. The surgeon stitches the two sections of skin together and creates a new opening for the belly button.

A mini tummy tuck may involve just skin removal and liposuction. The best candidates are patients who have tight muscles with minimal excess skin.

Both tummy tuck procedures are performed as outpatient surgery. After the surgery, most patients wear a compression bandage to minimize swelling and support their abdomen as it heals.

If needed, drainage tubes may be placed beneath the skin temporarily. After a week or so, the patient is able to see a flatter, firmer abdomen that complements their body shape. Any scarring tends to fade within a few months.

3. Are tummy tucks safe?

A tummy tuck is considered a very safe procedure. But like with any surgery, the procedure has risks that you will discuss with your surgeon before taking the next step. Bleeding, infection and complications from anesthesia are some of the potential risks.

While results are generally permanent, any significant weight gain or loss may affect the appearance of the abdomen.

4. How do I find a good plastic surgeon?

If you’re considering a tummy tuck, do your homework and look for a plastic surgeon who can best meets your needs.

Make sure you consult with a board-certified plastic surgeon who has experience in the type of surgery that you are considering, Dr. Pacella says.

“You want someone you trust and feel confident with, and who will be honest with you about what to expect,” he says.

Bring a list of questions and concerns to your consultation and be open about what you hope to achieve.

Make sure to discuss all costs. Most health insurance plans do not cover tummy tuck surgery, and costs can vary widely depending on the extent of the surgery, the surgeon and where the procedure is done.

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