What Is Breast Reduction Surgery?
Breast reduction surgery is an operation to remove extra fat, tissue, and skin from your breasts. If you have large breasts that are out of proportion to the rest of your body and causing neck pain, back pain, or other symptoms, you may be considering breast reduction surgery.
Because it's major surgery, you should know the benefits, potential complications, and what's involved in recovery.
Breast Reduction Surgery Consultation
Before the surgery, you’ll meet with your surgeon to talk about your medical history, including whether you've had a lump removed from your breast or have any other medical conditions that affect your breasts. Your surgeon will also ask about your family's medical history.
Be completely open with the surgeon about your medical history and why you want 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 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, including 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 be sure you heal the way you should, so follow your surgeon's instructions before and after breast reduction surgery.
Before the surgery, get your home ready for recovery. Have these things on hand:
Plenty of ice
Gauze and clean washcloths and towels
Loose, comfortable shirts
Special ointments or creams as recommended by your surgeon for the incision sites
You should also plan 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.
Breast Reduction Surgery Procedure
Depending on your case, you might have breast reduction surgery in an outpatient facility, or you may have to stay at least one night in the hospital. In either case, you’ll get general anesthesia, which means you will be put to "sleep" during the procedure.
Breast reduction surgery will take about 2 to 5 hours, sometimes longer.
Your surgeon could use one of a few surgery methods, depending on the shape and size of your breasts, how much tissue they need to remove, and how you want to look after surgery:
Liposuction. The surgeon will make small cuts in your skin and insert a thin tube connected to a vacuum that suctions fat and fluids from your breast. This option is best for small reductions and for people whose skin will “snap back” into place.
Vertical or “lollipop.”This method is for moderate breast reductions and visible sagging. The surgeon will make cuts around your areola and down to the crease beneath your breast, remove extra tissue and fat, reshape the breast, and lift it.
Inverted-T or “anchor.”The surgeon will make cuts around the edge of the areola, from the areola to the breast crease, and along the crease underneath the breast. This type of surgery is best for large reductions and for people who have a lot of sagging or unevenness.
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.
Breast Reduction Surgery Recovery
Expect to take at least a week off from work or school afterward. Some people need a couple of 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 a month after surgery.
After the surgery, you should expect to feel tired and to have breast pain. Your surgeon will give you an oral painkiller to ease you through the first few days. 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 Risks and Complications
Scars are a normal side effect of breast reduction surgery. These scars will fade over time but will never go away completely. They might be worse if you lift heavy objects too soon after surgery.
Other possible problems include:
Loss of feeling in your breasts or nipples, which could be brief or long-term
Side effects of the medication to help you sleep during surgery (anesthesia)
Swelling and bruising
Damage to nerves, blood vessels, and other parts of your body
The need for more surgery
Rarely, certain complications, such as inadequate healing of the nipple area, may require a skin graft.
Contact your doctor right away
At the first sign of infection, including redness, tenderness or unusual swelling at the surgical site, or 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
Breast Reduction Surgery Costs
Experts estimate that breast reduction surgery can range from around $7,700 to more than $9,700. 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 policy.
Your surgeon can send in a letter with photos of your breasts and details about your physical symptoms. Get in touch with your health insurer early so you know 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 surprises after the surgery.