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Is a Tummy Tuck Right for You?

Outpatient procedure results in firmer, flatter belly

A young woman in a bikini enjoys the beach and her recovery from tummy tuck surgery.

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 also may 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, answers a few of the most common questions about tummy tuck surgery.

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.”

In addition, you should have realistic expectations about what the surgery can and cannot do. While a tummy tuck can give a firmer and flatter appearance, it is not a substitute for weight loss or exercise. Also, it generally does not improve the appearance of stretch marks, unless the marks are on the skin that will be removed during surgery.

Finally, if you are planning to lose a significant amount of weight, or you are considering becoming pregnant, hold off on the procedure until your weight has stabilized.

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. This can be performed in patients who have tight muscles with minimal excess skin.

Both procedures are performed as outpatient surgery. After the surgery, most patients wear a compression bandage to minimize swelling and support your abdomen as it heals. If needed, drainage tubes may be placed beneath your skin temporarily. After a week or so, you should be able to see a flatter, firmer abdomen that complements your body shape. If you have a scar, it will begin to fade within a few months.

Are tummy tucks safe?

Like any surgery, a tummy tuck has risks. These include bleeding, infection and complications from anesthesia. In general, this is a very safe procedure. Always discuss the potential risks with your surgeon before deciding to have the procedure.

Also, while the results are generally permanent, it is important to understand that significant weight gain or loss may affect the appearance of the abdomen.

Schedule a tummy tuck consultation

If you’re considering a tummy tuck, schedule a consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon who has experience in this type of surgery,” says Dr. Pacella. “You want someone you trust and feel confident with, and who will be honest with you about what to expect.”

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