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Abdominal contouring through either liposuction alone or combined with some form of a tummy tuck are very common and popular body contouring procedures. Whether it is done to help with fat removal alone from weight gain and aging, pregnancy-induced abdominal changes or abdominal deformities from massive weight loss, these procedures provide very effective changes that can be long-lasting.

While they are commonly done, does this mean that patients are usually satisfied with them? As a plastic surgeon, I would tell you that they are tremendously satisfying for patients based on observations of results and comments from patients. But such anectodal evidence may seem self-serving as it is not objectively collected and sometimes one only hears or sees what they want to be true. Patients are also concerned about complications and recovery and these can understandably give one pause when considering these abdominal shaping surgeries.

In the May 2012 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, this exact question was studied. A published paper from a private practice in Kansas studied  the effects on the quality of life in 360 liposuction or combined lipoabdominoplasty patients. One of the objectives of the study was to compare liposuction and tummy tucks parameters from the patient’ viewpoint. These included the results, recovery, complications and psychological effects from the surgeries. The patient numbers broke down into 219 liposuction, 13 tummy tuck alone patients and 128 patients who had a combined tummy tuck and liposuction procedure.

To no surprise, liposuction patients had less pain and quicker recoveries than the tummy tuck patients. The average time off work was 6 days for liposuction and 16 days for tummy tucks. Conversely, tummy tucks with or without liposuction reported more significant results and improvement in abdominal contours than liposuction alone. Half of the liposuction patients felt that the procedure did not provide enough results. Overall nearly 86% of patients reported improved self-esteem  and nearly 70% reported an improved quality of life. Collectively, high levels of patient satisfaction were reported at near 89%.

The complication rate for any clinical series of a procedure is always of interest. In this study, it was close to 11%. Tummy tucks had more complications than liposuction with infection and delayed healing being the predominant issues.

For patients, this study has several relevant findings. Better results come from tummy tuck-based abdominal contouring procedures than just liposuction alone. Thus if in doubt between choosing between these two procedures, be aware that higher levels of disappointment occur with liposuction alone. After surgery scar concerns from having a tummy tuck is very uncommon. But to achieve this better result from a tummy tuck comes the price of more pain and recovery, having at least double the time until one can return to work. Nearly 100% of tummy tuck patients say they would undergo the operation again and would recommend it to others based on their experience.     

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana   

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