Defining Abdominoplasty

A woman with excess belly fat.
A woman with excess belly fat. imagedepotpro/Getty Images

Synonyms: Tummy tuck

Medical Specialties: Plastic Surgery

Clinical Definition: Abdominoplasty is an elective procedure to remove excess fat and abdominal skin while tightening weakened or separated stomach muscles.

In Our Own Words: An abdominoplasty flattens, firms and slims the abdomen by removing excess fat and skin while tightening muscles in the abdominal wall. It is a major elective surgery that requires general anesthesia and a recovery time of four to six weeks.

Candidates include women whose skin and abdominal muscles have been stretched by pregnancy; formerly obese individuals who cannot eliminate fat deposits and excess skin; and dieters and exercisers who cannot attain a flat, well-toned abdomen due to age or heredity.

More About Abdominoplasty

Abdominoplasty (also called panniculectomy) is the most common type of body-contouring surgery performed. The goal of abdominoplasty is to change body contours. Most people who receive abdominoplasty experience few complications and are quite happy with the often dramatic results.

Abdominoplasty usually involves the removal of an elliptical or oval patch of skin and fat. These patches are deep, all the way down to the abdominal wall. Abdominoplasty is performed directly below the costal margin, or the front of the rib cage.

Abdominoplasty can vary from minor surgery to more extensive reconstruction. For example, some patients receive only limited skin removal; whereas, others have a lot of skin removed and their umbilicus (belly button) moved, or transposed, as well as their rectus muscles ("abs") plicated, or placed into pleats.

Moreover, some patients who receive abdominoplasty receive long vertical incisions or cuts so that skin can be removed from two or more areas.

Circumferential abdominoplasty is more extensive surgery that involves the removal of tissue from the girth of a patient. During this procedure, a patient's body is moved one or more times during surgery.

Because incisions made during abdominoplasty are often long, curved and broken, multiple drains are placed at the end of surgery. These drains clear fluids and blood from the resultant wound. These drains are removed in the days following surgery.

As with any surgery, abdominoplasty can result in complications and adverse effects. Here are some unwanted things that can happen after surgery:

  • skin necrosis, or death of tissue;
  • wound separation;
  • infection;
  • large scars;
  • seroma formation, or formation of a pocket of clear serous fluid, sometimes mixed with blood;
  • paresthesia or abnormal sensations resulting from cut peripheral nerves;
  • necrosis, or death, of the umbilicus, which is most common when an umbilical hernia is also repaired during surgery or the umbilical stalk is long;

Of note, more extensive vertical incisions increase the risk of skin necrosis, especially at points where multiple scars come together.

Spinal anesthesia is often administered during abdominoplasty. Patients who receive this procedure should expect to be hospitalized for a few days.

Although these procedures can be extensive, loss of blood rarely required a blood transfusion.

As with any major surgery, patients who receive abdominoplasty are typically anticoagulated until they are out of bed to prevent deep vein thrombosis and resulting pulmonary embolism, which can kill.


Harvard Health Publications. “Medical Dictionary of Health Terms.” Accessed September 2013.

Cleveland Clinic. “Abdominoplasty (Tummy Tuck).” Accessed September 2013.

American Society of Plastic Surgeons. “Tummy Tuck.” Accessed October 2013.

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