1. How soon after my weight loss can I get plastic surgery done?
Large amounts of weight loss, generally 75 to 100 lbs or greater, will cause significant loose skin on multiple areas of the body. It does not matter whether that amount of weight loss is from dieting, gastric bypass, or lapband surgery, the skin can not shrink back done in most people.
Because body contouring surgery is about removing as much excess skin as possible, one should have maximized their weight loss and proven that this new weight is stable. For some patients, that may be 9 to 12 months. For others, it could be much longer than a year.
The other benefit to waiting until your weight loss is stable is to make sure you are in a good nutritional state. Weight loss, no matter how it is done, depletes one’s body of vital nutrients and other stores that are needed for the healing of long surgical incisions and extensive wounded tissues.
2. At what weight should I before I can have body contouring surgery?
Many extreme weight loss patients have a specific target weight in mind. Whether they make it or not depends on a lot of factors and one of those is certainly time. Whether any patient will hit their weight target is unknown. But at some point one will realize a point when their weight will not get any lower. Once one has bounced around at a low weight for awhile, then you can be certain this is where your body will live. Once you are comfortable that you have found this weight, and can keep it, then you are ready for surgery.
3. What’s the difference between a tummy tuck and a circumferential body lift?
The one body area that bothers all extreme weight loss patients is the abdomen or waistline area. Loose skin is always present in front of, over, and behind the hips. For some patients, a skin overhang is only present in the front. For many others, the skin excess extends around the waistline and across the back, resulting in sagging of the buttocks and posterior thighs as well. These concerns are almost always addressed first in most bariatric plastic surgery treatment plans.
When the excess skin overhang is primarily in the abdominal area, a tummy tuck or abdominoplasty is all that is needed. While it can be a conventional horizontal elliptical excisional pattern, the amount and stretched out quality of the skin may need a modified pattern to provide optimal tightening. This may require the horizontal cutout to go further back along the waistline or to include a vertical skin wedge resulting in an invert T or anchor closure pattern. (fleur-de-lis tummy ruck)
When the loose skin incorporates the entire waistline, a circumferential or 360 degree cutout is needed. This is known as a circumferential body lift. It is a lot like ‘pulling up your pants’. The scar will run completely around your waistline. In some cases, the front side of the circumferential body lift may include the fleur-de-lis cutout pattern as well.
4. How can I reshape my saggy breasts…or my manboobs?
One of the most challenging of all body parts to reshape after extreme weight loss is the female breast and the male chest. The female becomes essentially a deflated bag of skin with severe sagging and the nipple often pointed downwards. The male chest also loses volume, although less so than the female, but the chest skin shifts and sags downward with a lower than normal nipple position.
The breast often requires a combination of an implant, for volume replacement, and a lift (mastopexy)to reduce the amount of sagging skin and bring the nipple back up to a more central position of the breast mound. This is a difficult operation, from an artistic standpoint, and it often requires two separate surgeries to get the best result.
The sagging chest in the male, while not trying to make a mound like in the female, is complicated by trying to limit scarring. There are no natural creases or folds to hide scars in the flat male chest. Getting the nipple back up on the chest and tightening the skin requires a compromise between the result and the amount of scarring. The chest lift in a man is done differently than a breast lift in a woman.
5. I hate my ‘batwing’ arms, what can I do about them?
Loose skin in the arms is another common extreme weight loss problem. In the back of the upper arms (triceps area), loose skin and fat hang off and below the humerus bone. This creates a large fold of hanging skin. It often extends into and past the armpit and down into the side of the chest. In some cases, I have seen the skin excess goes past the elbow into the forearm.
The good news is that arm recontouring, known as brachioplasty, is the ‘simplest’ of all body contouring procedures. The arm’s circumferential measurement can be measurably reduced. Skin and fat is removed longitudinally along the arm and the cut out often takes a right turn into and past the armpit. The bad news is that it does result in a long scar in an unnatural area on the inside of the arm. Scar healing problems are not uncommon in the moist and moveable armpit area.
6. How bad are the scars from bariatric plastic surgery?
Body contouring after extreme weight loss is about making a trade-off…scars for improved contours. Depending upon the body area, scars tend to turn out somewhat different. Breast and abdominal scars generally look best while arm and thigh scars tend to become wider. Most of these scars are more than just fine or pencil-line in width and some of them will end up becoming hypertrophic or wide due to the tension placed on the wound closure.
Regardless of how the scars may look, there can be a lot of them if multiple body areas are treated. Despite the plethora of this new skin ‘problem’, weight loss patients universally prefer them to their prior ‘sharpee’ body look.
7. Will insurance cover my skin removal surgeries?
While third-party payors often pay for surgical and non-surgical weight loss treatments, such widespread coverage for body contouring is not so generous. The line between cosmetic and reconstructive procedures for removal of excess skin is a judgment call that does vary amongst different insurers. Ultimately they are looking for functional problems that this skin causes, such as infections, to determine medical necessity for the operation. In general, the most commonly covered procedure is the abdominal panniculectomy or frontal abdominoplasty. The procedures never covered are breast and chest reshaping.
Dr. Barry Eppley