Seattle Plastic Surgeon answers FAQ: Will I need a drain? How long will it need to stay in? Isn’t a drain really gross? Won’t it really hurt when you take it out?
Whether or not a patient will need a drain after surgery depends on what procedure is being done and how much postoperative oozing is anticipated. Beware of the surgeon who says I always use a drain or I never use a drain because every case is unique because every patient is unique.
I almost always drain my tummy tuck patients, but occasionally there is a patient who is very slim, has almost no oozing at the time of surgery and who I just know (call it surgeon’s instinct) will do fine without a drain. On the other hand, I rarely drain my breast lift patients, but once in a while, I will get a patient who is really, really juicy (sorry, but I can’t think of a better word) and I know that if I put in a drain for a few days, she will have less swelling and bruising after surgery.
The important thing for patients to know about drains is that they are a temporary annoyance but provide a very important function. Drains help get all the blood and serum that weeps from the surgical site to the outside. Having blood and/or serum build up in a surgical wound can cause swelling and bruising and discomfort and can even complicate healing.
Taking care of a drain is an easily learned task and is much less gross than changing a diaper or, in the case of my house, mopping the kitchen floor.
The drain stays in until the drainage is minimal, usually less than 25 ml (that’s about 1/2 a shot glass) for 24 hours. A drain after a lower body lift may stay in a week or more. A drain after a facelift may be ready to come out the next day. Again, it depends on the patient.
Another important point is that drain removal is not very painful. The drain usually slips out quite easily and the sting associated with drain removal is over in a few seconds. Many of my out-of-town patients have their caretaker remove their drain when the time is right. I show them the steps, we set up a phone call and I walk them through it.
Bottom line: Fear not the drain.
Thanks for reading! Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder