Blog — Notes of a Plastic Surgeon

Welcome to my blog. I am a plastic surgeon in Seattle and have been in private practice since 1991. I've seen more than a few interesting faces and cases through my years spent in the exam room, the operating room and the emergency room. And I have an opinion on just about everything relating to plastic surgery (and a lot of unrelated stuff). If you like my blog, let me know. Thanks for reading! Lisa

The truth about breast surgery in the obese patient

Seattle Plastic Surgeon tells it like it is for obese women seeking breast surgery.

A recent article published in The Journal of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery caught my attention.  This article looked at breast surgery outcomes in  7982 patients (that would be almost 16,ooo breasts!!!!) and divided the patients in obese and non-obese.  Their results were not surprising to me but they may be surprising to you.  The obese patients had a nearly 12 fold increase in postoperative complications when compared to non-obese patients.

Breast reduction is the most common breast operation performed in obese women.  That operation has a nearly 9 fold increase in postoperative complication in obese women compared to the non-obese.

This is not news for those of us who do a lot of reductions.  The sort of problems that obese women tend to have are fluid  collections (seroma), bleeding, delayed healing and infection.  These complications sometimes require a trip back to the operating room and they always require many, many postoperative visits.  Despite a rocky postoperative recovery, many obese women are still glad they had a reduction after everything is healed up.

So what’s the big deal?  All’s well that ends well, right?    Let’s look at this from an few different points of view.  If insurance pays for the reduction, they don’t want to see more bills for a hospital readmission to stop postoperative bleeding or a bajillion office visit bills to treat an infected wound.   And insurance companies are looking more closely at surgical outcomes and costs and using this information to rate surgeons.

If the reduction is private pay, the surgeon is unlikley to bill for increased postoperative visits which can run into 10 – 20 additional visits during recovery.  This can get very time consuming and expensive.

And for the patient it is no picnic having to pack an area along the suture line that either became infected or fell apart.  Post operative complications are just a total bummer all around, especially when the surgery is totally elective.

And here another issue.  Let’s say an obese lady has 5 pounds of breast tissue (which is 99% fat) removed and her weight drifts back up to her preoperative weight which almost always happens.  This means that she has gained 5 pounds of fat.  If that fat is just external fat, say on her hips, it’s not a big health issue but if it is intraabdominal fat a.k.a. belly fat a.k.a. visceral fat, it is a huge health risk.  Her breasts may no longer be killing her neck and back but her belly fat may literally be killing her.

So what am I really trying to say here.  Obese patients need to understand that breast reduction has a high rate of complications and that a reduction may actually make them less healthy if they gain back their weight as belly fat.

So this is a real sticky wicket.  Obese reduction patients are usually helped with back and neck pain with a breast reduction but weight loss would also help those back and neck pain issues.  Non surgical weight loss has no surgical risk and is accompanied by a host of improvements in a patients health.  Think high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, high cholesterol, etc.

So if you are obese and want a breast reduction from me, you will get a little weight loss lecture from me and may get turned down for surgery until you are able to shape up and slim down a little.    You may be willing to accept a high risk for a postoperative complication but I may not be.

Thanks for reading.  And if you have a quick, easy way to lose weight, please let me know.  I’m all ears.

 Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder

 

Category: Body Contouring, Breast Contouring, Breast Reduction, Health Care Costs, Obesity, Postoperative Care | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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