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Your guide to abdominoplasty

Team of surgeons

An abdominoplasty - more popularly known as ‘tummy-tuck’ surgery - is one of the UK’s top ten cosmetic procedures for both men and women. Nearly one in seventeen of all operations carried out to alter a person’s physical appearance involve the straightening or firming up of the stomach.

Bruising, swelling and pain naturally occur after invasive surgery and scarring will often take several months to heal properly. As with all surgical procedures, there are risks involved.  Some may be minor while others are more serious and life-threatening.

Complications can include:

  • Excessive scarring
  • Tissue death
  • Nerve damage
  • Build up of fluid
  • Infection

A significant amount of cosmetic work is carried out by consultants in private practice rather than through the NHS. Most treatments and procedures are carried out by competent and professional surgeons without complications.

A doctor who practices cosmetic surgery should have undertaken qualified training and is required to be on the Specialist Register in Plastic Surgery at the General Medical Council. These rules do not apply to doctors who registered with the Council before 2002.

A cosmetic clinic registered with the independent Care Quality Commission (CQC) must carefully assess if tummy-tuck surgery is suitable in each case as well as fully explain the risks involved.

At your first consultation, a surgeon should ask you about your expectations and what exactly you want to achieve..

A surgeon has a duty to:

  • Carefully explain the risks and limitations of tummy tuck surgery.
  • Enquire into your medical history and any conditions or circumstances that may present a risk or lead to complications.

Where a procedure falls below the expected standard, a surgeon may be found to be in breach of the ‘duty of care’ that you are owed.

Poor cosmetic work can cause patients to suffer more than ongoing pain and distress. The long term consequences of negligent treatment can not only leave permanent physical and psychological scars but also have a considerable impact upon the patient’s quality of life and their ability to interact socially.

Your Legal Friend has many years of clinical negligence experience, helping clients who have suffered disfiguring injuries caused by cosmetic procedures that have gone wrong.

We can help you:

  • Make your case heard
  • Obtain justice and compensation
  • Ensure the financial needs of further remedial treatment, support and counselling will be fully met.

Stats and facts...

  • Tummy-tuck surgery is one of the top ten cosmetic procedures in the UK.
  • 2,713 of the 45,406 cosmetic procedures carried out on both men and women in 2014 were for tummy-tuck surgery.
  • 2,608 female cosmetic procedures in 2014 were for tummy-tuck surgery.          (British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons – BAAPS)
  • Nearly 8,000 tummy-tuck procedures were carried out on the NHS between 2008 and 2013.
  • On average, 10 tummy-tuck procedures were carried out by each English Health Authority in 2013.
  • The highest number of tummy-tuck procedures in 2013 were carried out in:

58 - Darlington, County Durham

52 - south Birmingham

44 - Camden, north London

(Official Parliament figures, Dec 2013)

What a surgeon should advise before proceeding

A surgeon has a duty of care to:

  • Enquire into your medical history and any conditions, illnesses or circumstances that may present a risk or lead to complications such as the likelihood of:

- Excessive scarring or

- An adverse reaction to the general anaesthetic

You should also be advised to:

          - Discontinue smoking as this limits the flow of oxygen to the skin, causing potential problems with the healing process.

          - (For a woman) Discontinue taking birth control pills before and after the operation.

Time to decide

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) guidelines recommend that a cosmetic practice should allow prospective patients a two week 'cooling off' period. This will give vital time for patients to review the potential risks and benefits of cosmetic surgery and make a more informed, considered decision as to whether to proceed.

What exactly happens during an Abdominoplasty?

There are three different types of tummy-tuck surgery, depending on how much skin and fat is to be removed:

Standard Tummy-Tuck: Excess skin and fat is removed (sometimes using liposuction techniques where fat removed by vacuum), stomach muscles are tightened and the remaining skin is stretched.

  • Procedure (up to 3 hours under general anaesthetic) – A cut is made along the lower abdomen, from hipbone to hipbone.  The belly button is also removed and later repositioned.

Mini Tummy-Tuck: Only a small amount of surplus skin or fat is removed. Stomach muscles are tightened and the remaining skin is stretched.

  • Procedure (under local or general anaesthetic) – A small incision is made just above the pubic area so the excess skin can be removed. Belly button does not have to be removed.

A scar will be left on the abdomen above the pubic area.

Extended Tummy-Tuck: Skin and fat are removed from the abdomen and from the lower back, waist and upper thighs to reshape the abdominal area.

  • Procedure (up to 3 hours under general anaesthetic) – A cut is made along the lower abdomen, extending the opening around the sides and lower back, and removing the naval. Stomach muscles are tightened and the remaining skin is stretched. The same process is repeated with the upper thighs.

A scar is left not only above the pubic area and around the belly button, but also along the lower back.

What to expect after surgery

It is perfectly normal to experience some of the more common effects following surgery, such as:

  • Abdominal numbness
  • Scarring
  • Swelling.

Patients should be advised how to clean and dress their wounds properly in the days and weeks following the operation.

Swelling should begin to reduce within 1 -2 weeks of your procedure and you should be able to stand tall and fully upright.

The  abdominal area should settle completely by six months (earlier for a mini tummy-tuck).

The final results of a tummy-tuck should present a flatter, firmer stomach in better proportion to your body shape. The changes can be permanent as long as a healthy lifestyle and weight are maintained after surgery.

Types of Tummy-Tuck Errors

There are several well recognised complications that may occur during and after surgery:

  • Belly button loss or repositioned off-centre
  • Visible scarring, such as above the waistline
  • Excessive or inappropriate scarring
  • Disfigurement
  • Removal of too much skin
  • Insufficient removal of excess tissue
  • Creasing of the skin around the scar line
  • Bleeding under the skin
  • Loss of sensation caused by nerve damage
  • Delayed healing and accumulation of fluid
  • Damage to surrounding organs during surgery
  • Blood clots in the lungs
  • Failure to treat an infection following surgery
  • Harmful reaction to general anaesthetic
  • Inherited reaction to anaesthetic

Tummy-Tuck surgery – do I have a claim?

There are always risks involved when undergoing any type of surgery and mistakes can leave you with serious injuries and scarring for life. 

Your surgeon should have made you fully aware of any complications that may occur due to your abdominoplasty and is responsible for ensuring that your surgery is performed to the proper standard.

You may have a claim for negligence if your surgeon was negligent at any stage, before or after the surgery and you have suffered:

  • Excessive scarring / disfigurement
  • Loss or incorrectly repositioned belly button
  • Loss of sensation
  • Nerve damage to the abdomen and surrounding areas
  • Bleeding under the skin
  • Trauma or psychological damage
  • Associated injuries affecting other organs
  • Post-operative infection

How Your Legal Friend can help you

When a cosmetic treatment goes wrong or complications arise, it is vital to seek professional legal advice immediately.

Many of the problems associated with cosmetic procedures can be prevented if:

  • A through pre-surgery examination had been carefully carried out.
  • You were given the full facts and clear advice about potential complications and the limited benefits of a treatment or surgery.

As experienced clinical negligence specialists, we know that you may be feeling devastated that your procedure went wrong. We ensure your case is properly investigated and your voice heard in order to bring the hospital, health trust or medical practitioner to account for the harm and suffering they have caused, and to prevent others from suffering in a similar way.

Your Legal Friend is committed to ensuring victims of clinical negligence obtain answers and receive appropriate compensation so that their future medical treatment and care needs are properly met.