What Patients Should Know About Swelling After Tummy Tuck Surgery
Tummy tuck surgery – or abdominoplasty – is a popular and highly effective way to reshape the abdominal area. A healthy diet and regular physical exercise might not be enough to repair the changes in your tummy’s appearance caused by pregnancy or massive weight loss. Pregnancy also leaves stretch marks and skin creases, resulting in skin elasticity loss, known as elastosis.
It’s important to keep in mind that tummy tuck surgery is NOT a weight loss surgery. It is a body contouring procedure that aims to resurface the abdomen and reverse the signs of aging. When performing a tummy tuck, your plastic surgeon will remove the excess skin and fat, and tighten your stomach muscles.
A normal side effect after tummy tuck is swelling, which is temporary and usually disappears within the first few weeks. However, potential infections or failure to follow the plastic surgeon’s post-operative instructions may cause swelling to persist for longer than expected.
Understanding why and how tummy tuck swelling occurs can reduce patients’ concerns and help them have realistic expectations about their tummy tuck recovery.
Tummy Tuck Recovery
Before examining the side effect of swollen abdomen, let’s see how a patient can heal better and faster after a tummy tuck or a mini tummy tuck.
As with any other type of plastic surgery, recovery after a tummy tuck takes time. Your plastic surgeon will explain exactly what to expect after the procedure. For example, it is normal to have a bulge in the lower abdomen during the first days after the operation.
The doctor will probably recommend using a light compression belt to help reduce swelling and other possible complications. The post-surgical garment should be worn day and night for up to six weeks.
Typically, the recovery period lasts for at least two weeks, but you should wait another four weeks before starting to work out again. Without your plastic surgeon’s approval, you should not engage in any physical activity – particularly abdominal exercises.
What Causes Tummy Tuck Swelling? Is It Normal?
Swelling in the lower abdominal area after tummy tuck surgery is an absolutely normal and expected part of the healing process.
Tummy tuck surgery causes changes to the patient’s lymphatic drainage system. In particular, the plastic surgeon pulls tight the abdominal skin and relocates it in a new position, similar to a facelift. As a result, the blood vessels and lymphatic vessels in the area that used to drain fluid upwards are now divided.
New lymphatic connections will form with time, but fluid cannot be drained through the lymphatic drainage vessels until then. Instead, it flows down with gravity. In addition, scar tissue stops the fluid from migrating. This fluid buildup that makes the tummy area grow larger is known as swelling or edema.
The extent of swelling may also depend on the type of tummy tuck surgery. A mini tummy tuck usually results in less swelling and recovery time than a traditional tummy tuck. Moreover, combining a tummy tuck surgery with liposuction in the abdomen or other parts of the body often produces more swelling in the affected areas.
Another thing to keep in mind is that pain medications also play a part in producing swelling in the abdomen. Pain medications may slow down the gastrointestinal tract and cause constipation and bloating. This is only temporary, though, and resolves when the patient no longer needs the medication.
How Long Do You Stay Swollen After A Tummy Tuck?
The patient’s abdominal area is visibly swollen over the first few days after tummy tuck surgery. The area around the scars is usually where swelling persists for longer.
Minor swelling continues to exist in the area for around two months, but its extent depends on the patient’s aftercare routine and daily activities. For example, standing up for long hours will probably cause the abdominal muscles to grow large again. However, a good night’s sleep will help reduce swelling and speed up recovery.
In some cases, minor swelling can persist up to one year after surgery, but most patients have gotten rid of the “bloating” feelings and appearance after 18 months.
Stages of Swelling after Tummy Tuck
Many patients are worried about lower belly swelling after a tummy tuck. Hence, we created the below list to shed light on this common concern of tummy tuck candidates and patients.
Swelling 3 Weeks after Tummy Tuck
As with any other surgical procedure, swelling after tummy tuck is typical to occur in the lower abdominal area. Three weeks after surgery, most patients feel very swollen and even experience hardness around the belly button.
Swelling 3 Months after Tummy Tuck
Noticeable swelling in the lower belly area should start subsiding three months after tummy tuck surgery. Yet, mild swelling and puffiness are normal to still be present in the area.
Swelling 6 Months after Tummy Tuck
Many patients experience persistent minor bloating even 6 months after tummy tuck surgery. A reason for this might be that patients spend long hours standing. However, a “good night’s sleep” will help improve the abdomen’s swollen appearance.
Swelling 8, 9 or 10 Months after Tummy Tuck
Most swelling should have been resolved between 8 and 10 months after the tummy tuck. Yet, fluid retention due to diet and salt intake might be the reason behind a still swollen belly. Patients who experience a bloated upper or lower abdomen 10 months after tummy tuck surgery should contact their doctor and have him/her re-examine them.
Swelling 1 Year after Tummy Tuck
Post-surgical swelling diminishes gradually over a year to a year and a half after a tummy tuck. However, there is no specific time schedule for each individual’s recovery. If swelling seems unusual to the patient, then it is time to consult with their plastic surgeon.
Swelling 2 Years after Tummy Tuck
A protruding stomach appearance 2 years after a tummy tuck might be down to visceral fat and loose muscle. In such cases, patients need to lose weight to reduce the bloating that is still present. A visit to the plastic surgeon for further assessment or a second opinion might help.
Being patient and following your plastic surgeon’s aftercare instructions is the key to effectively resolve swelling and puffiness after a traditional tummy tuck or a mini tummy tuck. Patients with a strong immune system, who stick to their doctor’s post-operative care instructions, heal faster and better.
If you had your tummy tuck surgery at the European Institute of Plastic Surgery (EIPS), Dr. Stavrou would always be eager to answer all your questions during and in between your follow-up visits.
How To Reduce Swelling After A Tummy Tuck
Wearing a compression garment as directed by the plastic surgeon is one of the most crucial steps of post-operative care that speeds up the recovery process and helps relieve feelings of discomfort.
The patient should avoid any strenuous exercise and excessive movement after surgery. A good idea would be to go shopping before the surgery to ensure there is plenty of food, water and anything else they might need at home during the first days of healing.
Even though swelling is a natural part of the recovery process, here are 10 doctor-approved tips that can help reduce the severity of swelling after a tummy tuck.
- Avoid overconsumption of salt
- Minimize sodium intake through food
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
- Refrain from smoking
- Keep the scars and abdomen clean
- Get enough sleep and rest during the day
- Try elevating your lower legs while resting
- Incorporate light walking into your daily routine
- Listen to your body & don’t rush your healing
- Be consistent with your follow-up appointments
Tummy Tuck Combined with Liposuction or A Mommy Makeover
Patients who choose to combine a tummy tuck with liposuction or a Mommy Makeover should expect more persistent swelling in the affected areas. Again, it is normal for the healing process to last longer for patients who underwent a combination of plastic surgeries.
However, most women find it worth the swelling, as this combination of procedures resculpts the body beautifully, leaving a firmer, more pleasing silhouette. Apart from a tummy tuck, Mommy Makeover may also include an arm lift, breast lift, and liposuction of the abdomen and thighs.
The Bottom Line
The tummy tuck is a particularly transformative procedure. That means for the final results to be visible, it might take weeks, months, or even longer. Additional plastic surgery, such as stomach liposuction, will further increase the recovery time and swelling.
Patients need to have patience throughout the healing process, trust their plastic surgeon and follow the post-operative care instructions precisely to see the swelling subside and incisions fade the soonest possible.
Book an appointment with board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Demetris Stavrou in Nicosia, Limassol (Cyprus), Athens (Greece), or Sliema (Malta) to discuss if a tummy tuck procedure is appropriate for you and how it will help you look and feel more beautiful and confident than ever before!