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Abdominoplasty (Tummy tuck)

9-minute read

When might you have a tummy tuck?

You might decide to have a tummy tuck if you want to:

  • remove sagging fat and skin from your tummy
  • repair any separated muscles in the abdomen

The operation is usually done for cosmetic reasons. The aim is to improve the appearance of a flabby or bulging belly. Causes of a flabby or bulging belly may include:

  • being above a healthy weight
  • ageing
  • pregnancy
  • rapid weight loss

Abdominoplasty can also be done as a reconstructive operation to:

  • correct abnormalities after a disease or surgery, such as removal of large pelvic tumours
  • fix structural defects of the abdomen
  • correct abnormalities caused by obesity
  • improve the contour of the abdomen after a hernia repair

An ‘apronectomy’ is another operation sometimes done in addition to a tummy tuck. It involves removing a hanging 'apron' of abdominal fat that can cover the genitals, make personal hygiene difficult and cause ongoing skin irritation.

What questions should I consider when thinking about an abdominoplasty?

There are several reasons a person may think about having a tummy tuck. While this operation might improve your appearance and possibly your quality of life, it is important to remember that it is major surgery and not suitable for everyone.

There are several questions that you should consider when making your decision.

Weight

If you are obese, think about whether you have done all you can without surgery. Would seeing a dietitian help? Are you able to exercise more regularly? Have you seen your doctor and asked about weight-loss medication? Do you have all the support you need?

Before a surgeon will perform this operation, you usually need to be at a stable weight.

You should also be aware that:

  • If you have recently given birth, it can take a long time to get your abdominal muscles in shape again. Before considering a tummy tuck after pregnancy, try post-natal abdominal exercises.
  • Having a tummy tuck will not prevent you from regaining weight.

Cost

Consider whether you can afford this surgery and if it will give you the results you expect.

Medicare doesn't cover the cost of cosmetic surgery, and often private health insurance doesn't either. If a tummy tuck is done for reconstructive reasons, part of the costs may be covered.

Age

The Medical Board of Australia have guidelines for providing cosmetic medical and surgical procedures for patients under the age of 18.

If you are under 18, you need to have a psychological assessment and wait for a cooling off period of 3 months before having major cosmetic surgery. This won't apply if the surgery is done for reconstructive reasons.

How do I choose a surgeon?

If you are considering a tummy tuck, it is important to choose a surgeon you feel comfortable with and who will speak to you honestly about the benefits and risks of the surgery.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has a register of medical practitioners. You can check this register to ensure your surgeon is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS). You can also check if the surgeon has had any serious disciplinary action taken against them.

Some people consider having cosmetic surgery overseas, but there can be many problems with this. It should be considered carefully.

What questions should I ask before surgery?

There are many things to consider before deciding to go ahead with an operation. Among the questions you might want to ask a surgeon are:

  • What are risks the with a tummy tuck for a person in my state of health?
  • How many tummy tucks have you performed and what is your success rate?
  • Are there non-surgical alternatives or lifestyle changes I should consider?
  • How long will it take for me to recover?
  • How likely is it that I may need a second operation?
  • How much will it cost?

You can also use the Question Builder tool to create your question list for the appointment. Prepare your list, then print or email it so you remember what you want to ask.

How to prepare for a tummy tuck

Your surgeon will take a complete medical history. Take notice of any pre-surgery instructions you are given. You might be asked to:

  • reach your optimal weight first
  • quit smoking
  • have a psychological assessment
  • optimise your general health and work with your doctor to make sure that other medical conditions are well managed

Before a surgeon will perform this operation, you usually need to be at a stable weight. You may be asked to postpone the operation if you aim to become pregnant or lose a lot of weight.

Talk to your surgeon about any medicines or supplements you should start or stop taking before surgery.

What happens during a tummy tuck?

You will be given a general anaesthetic.

Different techniques are used depending on whether you are having a full or partial (mini) abdominoplasty.

The surgeon will stitch, tape or clip the incisions (cuts) together. Your wounds will be covered with dressings. Sometimes one or two small tubes are inserted to drain blood or fluid. These tubes may be left in place for several days before being removed.

What should I expect after a tummy tuck?

You won't feel well and your recovery may be slow. You are likely to have some bruising, swelling, and pain.

You might need to take pain medication, antibiotics and anticoagulants, which help prevent blood clotting. After the procedure, maybe even on the first day, you will be asked to walk around in order to prevent blood clots from forming.

For the first few days after surgery you will need to lie with your upper body raised and knees angled. You may find it difficult to stand up straight because your abdomen feels tight.

Your abdomen will be wrapped in an elastic bandage or compression garment to keep swelling down. Take care not to put strain on the wounds for at least 6 weeks after the operation. If you do make sudden movements, such as bending suddenly at the waist, the incisions might open.

If you are concerned at any time after the operation, seek medical advice from your doctor.

You should be able to return to light work 1 to 3 weeks after the operation.

Make sure you ask your surgeon for their advice, as this may change depending on the type of surgery you have, or on your personal health and wellbeing.

What are the risks of a tummy tuck?

Like any surgery, a tummy tuck procedure comes with risks. You should discuss the risks in detail with your surgeon. You should also discuss the risks of having anaesthetic with your anaesthetist.

About 1 in 25 people have serious complications after a tummy tuck.

The risks include:

  • persistent pain or discomfort
  • prominent scarring
  • infection
  • blood clots in the leg or chest (deep vein thrombosis)
  • heart or lung complications
  • poor wound healing, which may require skin grafts
  • numbness or changes in skin sensation (which usually improves after several months, but could be permanent)
  • an accumulation of blood or fluid around the surgical site that may need to be drained
  • tight skin that makes it difficult to bend forward or stretch
  • nausea due to the anaesthetic

Some people need further surgery because of complications or because they haven't got the result they hoped for.

How much will the tummy tuck cost?

The cost of an abdominoplasty varies from patient to patient and includes:

  • surgeon's fees
  • anaesthetist's fees
  • clinic or hospital fees
  • medication, dressings and support garments
  • medical tests

Your surgeon and anaesthetist must provide you with information in writing about the cost of their services before the procedure. This should include:

  • the total cost
  • details of deposits needed, information on refund of deposits, and required payment dates
  • payments for follow-up care.
  • possible further costs for additional revision surgery or treatment

Where can I get more information on tummy tucks?

If you are considering having a tummy tuck, you should first discuss it with your doctor. More information is also available on the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons website, and in our guide to cosmetic surgery.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022


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