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4 Tummy Tuck Surgery Risks and How to Minimize Complications

By: Austin-Weston


The decision to undergo abdominoplasty or tummy tuck surgery could be either the first step or the last step in your journey for a better-looking body. Whether your belly skin is loose from having children or from rapid weight loss, a tummy tuck is likely to be the solution. It involves removing excess skin and fat, as well as tightening the abdominal muscles. It’s a significant procedure, but one that Austin-Weston’s plastic surgeons perform over 300 times per year.

A tummy tuck involves risks, including a few that come with any surgical procedure, such as bleeding or infection. Abdominoplasties also incur specific risks that you should fully understand and consider before moving forward with the procedure.


A tummy tuck requires a long incision—from hip bone to hip bone. That scar can get raised or irregular after surgery. These cosmetic outcomes can be addresses and improved once you’ve healed from the abdominoplasty, but the scar is permanent.

The biggest risk in the scarring is that the healing gets prolonged and worsened by inadequate blood flow.  This can happen for a number of reasons, but the most common relate to what happens during surgery and in the immediate aftermath.  You can help maximize blood flow to the scar by not smoking (see below), but we like to check your scar the day after surgery to make sure things look perfect. (To make things more convenient, we have an overnight facility in our office where you can spend the night.  That way we come to see you the next day instead of the other way around!)


Expect numbness after a tummy tuck.  By itself, a tummy tuck will leave you numb near the scar in the lower portion of your abdomen.  If you combine liposuction (the removal of fat deposits through suction) with your tummy tuck, you may experience numbness throughout the abdomen. It can be numb for six months up to a year, but typically, it takes just a few weeks for sensation to return to the area.

Lumps and Bumps

After a tummy tuck, little lumps and bumps can sometimes be seen or felt in the area. These can last for a few weeks until the internal sutures dissolve and some of the swelling goes away. Occasionally, the uneven appearance will last longer. If you’re experiencing lumps and bumps three months after surgery, you should return to your doctor for assessment. Additional liposuction or fat grafting may be required. The risk of this occurring with our experienced plastic surgeons is rare. If it happens, Austin-Weston will do our best to take care of you and correct the area to your satisfaction.

Blood Clots

The most serious risk for patients undergoing a tummy tuck arises from tightening the abdominal muscles. The cosmetic result means a flat, firm profile for your belly. However, you should be aware that tightening the muscles can be uncomfortable, especially when you take deep breaths or cough after surgery.  Taking deep breaths (and moving your feet up and down to flex your calf muscles) is crucial to moving blood back to the heart any time, but especially after your surgery.  Because of your muscle tightening, you may not want to do it, but its important, and we give you a special machine called an “incentive inspirometer” to encourage you to do it.  Slow blood flow back to the heart to could lead to the formation of a clot in the leg, and if that clot travels to your lungs, the risk is serious, and can even be fatal.

During the procedure, the surgical team takes several precautions to avoid the formation of blood clots, including placing squeezing devices on the legs to mimic blood flow and ensuring that the body is kept warm and hydrated throughout the operation.

After the surgery, in addition to the incentive inspirometer, patients are given blood-thinning medication which is self-administered by injecting it into the thigh starting the day after surgery. This an extra precaution, is one of those  “above and beyond” measures that most practices don’t require, but Austin-Weston considers an important addition to post-operative care to minimize risk as much as possible.

What You Can Do

There are several things you can do prior to tummy tuck surgery to lower your risks. During your consultation, the team will give you a detailed list of proactive steps you can take to help make your tummy tuck a success. These are the most important:

  • Don’t smoke. Smokers have a higher risk of problems during the wound-healing period. With such a long incision required for the tummy tuck, being smoke-free is imperative. If you are a smoker, quit for a month prior to the surgery, and your risk of the wound reopening in spots or taking longer to heal is considerably less.
  • At the consultation, tell your surgeon about all medications you take. Some might lead to complications during surgery, so bring a complete list with dosages noted. Don’t forget to include over-the-counter medications, too!
  • Make sure your weight is stable. Tummy tuck candidates don’t have to be a particular weight, but if you’re planning on losing pounds or your weight fluctuates often, talk to your doctor about how to achieve stability to ensure the best-looking result. There is no ideal number for tummy tuck candidates. In fact, if you’re a little heavier, it’s easier for the doctor to predict your results. So, no crash diets before surgery!
  • After a tummy tuck or liposuction, if you lose a few pounds, that’s great! But if you gain 15, 20, 30 pounds it will reverse the effects of the procedure and could be difficult to correct.

As the busiest tummy tuck practice in northern Virginia, the Austin-Weston team has experienced every possibility in the operating room. They perform hundreds of tummy tucks each year and know how to handle and correct the problem in the unlikely event of complications. As expert practitioners of the procedure, Austin-Weston plastic surgeons also perform corrective surgery for patients who underwent a tummy tuck or liposuction with less experienced surgeons. They’ve improved many a “botched” tummy tuck much to the delight of their patients.

When you’re considering surgery as invasive as a tummy tuck, it’s important to understand the risks involved and do your part to ensure a smooth recovery.  At Austin-Weston, our team is here to answer any questions you have—big or small—so you are educated and prepared for the big day. And, unlike other plastic surgery practices, your entire surgical journey takes place in our pristine, comfortable facility. From your first consultation to operation through recovery, we will take care of you every step of the way.

Are you ready to regain the flat belly of your youth — or maybe achieve that beautiful silhouette for the first time? Contact us today to schedule your complimentary consultation by calling our office at (703) 893-6168

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