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The Facts About Body-Contouring Surgery

When you lose 100 pounds or more, what happens to the extra skin? For many, the answer lies in body-contouring surgery.

Types of Body-Contouring Surgery continued...

Other choices include an upper body lift, which focuses on the breasts and back, as well as lifts for the arms, inner thighs, and the face and neck.

Because some of these operations can be lengthy, one of the newest approaches is to use two or more surgeons working simultaneously on a single patient, Colon says. This helps reduce the amount of time spent under anesthesia, and that, in turn, may speed recovery, he says.

But even with a surgical team, Rubin says, a multiprocedure involving the abdomen, a lower body lift, breast lift and arms -- a common combination -- could last eight or more hours.

How Safe Is It?

Among problems that have been cited are wound infection, reopening of wounds needing surgical drainage, and excess bleeding requiring a second surgery, Rubin says. Blood transfusions are also needed about 15% of the time. In rare instances, patients have developed fatal blood clots.

While some of these problems still occur (notably the need for transfusions), experts say it's on a much smaller scale in the last few years. In a study presented in 2003 at an American Society of Plastic Surgeons conference in San Diego, researchers found that many such complications could be avoided if patients allowed more time to elapse between weight loss surgery and plastic surgery.

The research reported that patients who underwent bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery on the stomach and/or intestines) who waited about a year before undergoing body-contouring surgery saw a reduction in the complication rate -- and ended up with shorter hospital stays. The researchers also reported that waiting allowed the death rate to drop dramatically, from 14% for those who had body-contouring surgery soon after losing the weight, to 0% for those who waited.

Today, Colon says, most patients are advised to wait at least one year after bariatric surgery.

But even when patients do wait, problems can still occur -- including a dramatic loosening of the newly tightened skin that sometimes requires a second round of surgery, Rubin says.

"We can't predict who will be affected and we don't know why it happens, but it does. Some people actually need more surgery," says Rubin.

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