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Planning Your Plastic Surgery

Things You Need to Know

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Updated March 04, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Once you have decided to undergo plastic surgery, there are many things you will need to do to prepare. Many of these preparations begin weeks before surgery.

Expectations

Before even going forward with the other preparations, you must first ask yourself if your expectations are realistic. If they are not, no matter how great a job your plastic surgeon does, you are bound to be disappointed. Your plastic surgeon is just that: a physician, not a magician. Remember, loose or sagging skin will remain loose and sagging unless it’s removed or lifted. Stretch marks will still be present unless they are removed with a skin removal type of procedure. Plastic surgeons are not bariatric surgeons, so plastic surgery procedures are not weight-loss procedures — but rather body contouring procedures.

Physical Examination

Your plastic surgeon’s first priority is your health and safety, and it should be yours as well. Most cautious plastic surgeons will require blood work, at minimum, before your procedure. In addition to blood work, others will request that you obtain a history, physical and medical clearance from an internist, a family practitioner or your primary care doctor prior to your procedure. This is for your benefit, since there's no reason not to make sure your health is at its optimum prior to proceeding. Plastic surgery is surgery. And plastic surgery, particularly cosmetic plastic surgery, is usually elective. Even reconstructive plastic surgery is usually non-emergent. Putting a “rush order” on plastic surgery may end up in a rush trip to the hospital if everything is not in order prior to proceeding.

Know the Possible Complications

Before proceeding with any major plastic surgery procedure, it's best to know the positives and negatives — or the advantages and disadvantages. Medically, these are known as risks and benefits. Risks are not things that will necessarily happen, but which may happen. If an unforeseen event happens to occur, then it may be viewed as a complication. If you don’t think you could tolerate a potential risk or complication, such as bad scarring after a tummy tuck, it may not be worth the benefit of having a nice, tight abdomen that comes with a tummy tuck. Remember that only you can weigh how much potential risk you’re willing to accept. For the most part, complications are rare, but if a complication happens to you, it may feel endless. Smoking, alcohol intake, recreational drug use, and even certain prescription drug use both before and after your surgery can increase the risk of complications.

Drug Use

Drugs come in many forms: cigarettes, cigars, alcohol, prescription drugs, recreational drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, etc., anabolic steroids (the steroid type used to add muscle mass), and corticosteroids (the steroid type used to help fight inflammation). The use of tobacco (whether inhaled or chewed), alcohol, prescription drugs, recreational drugs, and steroids can increase the risks of complications after surgery. Nicotine from tobacco restricts blood flow to the skin. Reduced blood flow results in decreased oxygen to the skin, which can lead to skin death, delayed healing of your incision(s), and open wounds. Alcohol can increase the risk of bleeding. Some prescription drugs, and even some supplements, can also increase the risk of bleeding. Recreational drugs can cause complications with anesthesia and increased need for pain medication after surgery. Steroid use can affect how well your incisions heal.

For your well-being, it is best to let your plastic surgeon be aware of all drugs, including supplements, that you have taken in the six months prior to your procedure, as well as the drugs and/or supplements you are currently taking. Your plastic surgeon may ask you to stop taking certain drugs, and may even find it necessary to postpone your surgery if certain drugs are in your system.

Recovery

It is important to know how soon after your procedure you can return to your normal routine. Usually, the more extensive the procedure, the longer the recovery lasts. There are phases of recovery: immediate recovery takes place in the first one to two weeks right after your surgery, and long-term recovery lasts up to six to eight weeks after your procedure.

Mentality and outlook play a big role in the recovery process as well. Patients who tend to dwell on pain or discomfort will have more pain and discomfort. Those who, within reason and within their surgeon’s parameters, try to get back to normal activities as soon as possible tend to have a more easy recovery. As the saying goes, “mind over matter.”

Timing

Timing is everything. When planning your procedure, some things you should consider to help you better plan when to schedule your surgery, how much time you’ll need to take off from work and/or school, and planning any extra assistance you may need in your recovery period are:

  • When may I remove my dressings or special garments?
  • When are my post-surgery appointments?
  • When may I drive?
  • When may I shower?
  • When may I take a bath or swim?
  • When may I exercise?
  • When may I have sex?
  • When may I resume my usual medications?
  • When may I lift/pick up my child?
  • When may I walk my dog(s)?
  • When will my pain or discomfort subside?
  • When may I stop taking pain medication?
  • When may I start using scar treatments?

As stated before, plastic surgery is surgery. Just because it's usually elective doesn't mean that fewer precautions should be taken. People have died after plastic surgery. Careful planning ahead can make the process go smoothly and give you the results you desire.

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