Breast Reduction Surgery

If you have disproportionately large breasts that are causing neck pain, back pain, or other physical symptoms, you may be considering breast reduction surgery.

Most women who get breast reduction are very satisfied with the results. Men with conditions such as gynecomastia (in which male breasts are abnormally enlarged) may also get breast reduction.

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Because it's major surgery, you should know the benefits, potential complications, and what's involved in recovery.

Your Consultation About Breast Reduction Surgery

Before breast reduction surgery, you will consult your surgeon. During your consultation, you'll talk about your medical history, including whether or not you've had a lump removed from your breast or have any other medical conditions that affect your breasts. Your surgeon will also ask you about your family's medical history.

Be completely open with the surgeon about your medical history and why you're seeking a breast reduction. Be prepared to discuss any emotional issues you've dealt with regarding your breasts, how your breasts have physically felt to you, and any physical conditions you've had.

The surgeon may take photos of your breasts, measure them, and talk with you about how much breast tissue will need to be removed to achieve your goal. You will also learn about preparing for the surgery and planning for your recovery. You may get a mammogram and breast exam before the surgery.

During your consultation, your surgeon will ask about your habits, including whether or not you smoke and what medications you take. You may have to quit smoking for a period before and after surgery to ensure proper healing. You also may have to stop taking certain medications, such as aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs such as Motrin or Aleve. Your surgeon will give you instructions about what you need to do.

How to Prepare for Breast Reduction Surgery

You need to be in good physical shape to ensure proper healing, so follow your surgeon's instructions before and after breast reduction surgery.

Before you undergo surgery, you'll need to get your home ready for your recovery. Have these things on hand:

  • Plenty of ice
  • Gauze and clean washcloths and towels
  • Loose, comfortable T-shirts and blouses
  • Special ointments or creams as recommended by your surgeon for the incision sites

You should also plan ahead for someone to drive you home and stay with you for at least the first night after the procedure, if you're not staying in the hospital.

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How Breast Reduction Surgery Is Done

Depending on your personal situation, breast reduction surgery can be done in an outpatient facility, or you may have to stay at least one night in the hospital. In either case, you will get general anesthesia, which means you will be put to "sleep" during the procedure.

Breast reduction surgery will take about two to five hours, sometimes longer. Your surgeon will make a cut around your nipple then downward on the breast in the form of a keyhole. The operating team will remove extra skin, tissue, and fat from your breasts and reposition your nipple. Your surgeon may use drainage tubes and then stitch up your breasts and wrap them in a special gauze. You may also need to wear a surgical bra.

Recovery From Breast Reduction Surgery

You will need to take at least one week off from work or school for breast reduction surgery. Some people need two weeks, but each situation varies. Your surgeon will instruct you on follow-up appointments for removing bandages and stitches.

While you recover, you'll need to stop physical activity for at least one month after surgery.

After breast reduction surgery, you should expect to feel tired and to have breast pain. This is normal. Your surgeon will give you an oral painkiller to ease you through the first few days after surgery. You should also avoid heavy lifting.

Some people have an emotional reaction, such as feeling depressed, after the surgery. That can be normal, but make sure you tell your doctor about all your concerns.

Breast Reduction Surgery Complications and Side Effects

Scars are a normal side effect of breast reduction surgery. These scars will fade over time but will never completely disappear. Scars can be made worse if you lift heavy objects too soon after surgery. In rare cases, some people have certain complications, such as inadequate healing of the nipple area, that may require a skin graft.

After Breast Reduction Surgery, Contact Your Doctor Immediately:

  • At the first sign of infection, including fever
  • If you have any unusual discharge from the incision site (including pus)
  • If any of the stitches come out before you are due to have them removed

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Does Insurance Cover Breast Reduction Surgery?

In most cases, insurance covers breast reduction surgery. Because breast reduction is considered reconstructive, your chances of getting insurance coverage are good. But you must be sure to follow all the procedures set forth by your health insurer's policy.

Your surgeon can take photos of your breasts and detail your physical symptoms caused by enlarged breasts in a letter. Get in touch with your health insurer early and make sure you understand exactly what they will pay for. For example, will insurance cover such things as lab costs or anesthesiologist fees? Asking in advance will help prevent surprise costs after the surgery.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on January 20, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

American Society of Plastic Surgeons: "2011 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report."

Mayo Clinic: "Breast Reduction Surgery." 

American Society of Plastic Surgeons: "Breast Reduction."

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