What You Need to Know About Body Lift Surgery

From costs and complications to what happens

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With the rise of bariatric surgery and extreme weight loss, body lift surgery is more in demand. Body lift surgery is meant to address loose, hanging skin that exists as a result of massive weight loss, pregnancy, or age and sun damage.

The procedure raises, firms, and tightens the skin of the thighs, buttocks, hips (flanks), groin, waist, and abdomen. Also known as a lower body lift or belt lipectomy — so named because the incisions encircle the body like a belt, excess skin is removed and the surrounding tissue repositioned to create a more youthful and pleasing body contour.

The Best Candidates for a Body Lift

Body lifts are usually performed on those with large amounts of loose, hanging skin in multiple areas on the trunk and legs. Its goal is to return the body to a more normal appearance after loss of skin elasticity due to extreme weight loss or age-related changes.

What a body lift cannot do is remove significant fat deposits. Your weight should be stabilized at or near your ideal weight before considering a body lift. In cases where there are small local fat deposits but skin elasticity is poor, your surgeon may recommend a combination of liposuction and body lift surgery.

The best candidates for a body lift are non-smokers who are in generally good health and maintain a stable weight through a commitment to a healthy diet and lifestyle. It is also important for the patient to have a positive outlook and realistic expectations about the outcome.

Women considering pregnancy should hold off on having a body lift, as subsequent pregnancy may significantly compromise results in the abdominal area.

Risks and Complications of a Body Lift

As with any invasive or surgical procedures, body lifts have risks and possible complications, which include:

  • unfavorable scarring and/or skin discoloration
  • excessive bleeding or hematoma
  • skin or fat necrosis (tissue death)
  • poor wound healing or wound separation
  • blood clots

Call your surgeon immediately if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, unusual heartbeats, or excessive bleeding.

How Much Does it Cost

As cosmetic surgery goes, a body lift is major surgery, and the cost reflects as much. According to the 2014 Statistics Report of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average total cost of a lower body lift was $7,843; however, cost can reach $20,000. The complexity of the procedure; your surgeon’s skills, qualifications, and reputation; the geographical area (For example, the northeastern and western U.S. costs tend to be higher.) as well as any fees — surgeon’s, anesthesia, facility, lab, and medications — contribute to the final costs.

Complementary Procedures

Body lift surgery is often done in conjunction with other surgeries to enhance the patient’s results.

Often, other body lifting procedures may be desirable, such as a breast lift, arm lift, thigh lift, or butt lift. In addition, extreme weight loss can effect the elasticity of the facial skin as well, so a face lift, neck lift, or brow lift may be desired.

Before Your Procedure

During your initial consultation, be prepared to discuss whether a body lift is the right treatment for you. Your surgeon will not just evaluate your general health, but also examine and measure your body and take photos of your body. The two of you will also discuss the outcomes of the body lift and the complications. You will want to have a list of questions ready for your surgeon. 

Just prior to your procedure, your surgeon will usually order pre-op lab tests to confirm your health status. He may also require that you adjust, cease, or begin taking certain medications in the week or two before your surgery, including avoiding aspirin, many anti-inflammatory drugs, and herbal supplements, for two weeks prior to surgery. If you smoke, you will almost certainly be required by your surgeon to stop well in advance of surgery. Make sure to make arrangements for transportation to and from the medical facility, as well as to have someone with you for at least 24 hours after you return home.

What Happens During a Body Lift

On the day of your procedure, have someone drive you to the facility. There, your surgeon may take more pre-op photos and possibly mark areas on your body while you are standing.

Then, you're prepped for surgery. Medications are given for your comfort during the surgical procedure. Often, general anesthesia is given, so that you will be asleep throughout the procedure. However, a body lift may also be performed using a combination of local anesthesia and intravenous sedation. Your surgeon will recommend the best choice for you.

Incisions are made. Body lift incision patterns vary depending on the amount and location of excess skin and fat. You and your surgeon will determine beforehand which incision technique will work best for your needs. In general, though, a body lift incision will encircle your body much like a low-slung belt.

Excess skin is removed and repositioned. The remaining skin is then pulled to its new position. Underlying abdominal muscles may also be tightened as in a tummy tuck. In addition, the belly button may need to be repositioned.

Incisions are closed with sutures, and are usually given additional support with surgical tape and skin adhesive (tissue glue). Dressings or bandages are applied to the incisions, and small tubes may temporarily be placed under the skin to help drain any excess blood or fluid that may collect.

Recovery and Downtime

After surgery, you will be taken to a recovery area where you will be monitored by surgical staff. Although body lifts may in some cases be performed on an outpatient basis, many require an overnight hospital stay. At the very least, you will be required to have someone stay with you for the first 24 hours.

Most patients can return to non-strenuous work after 2 to 3 weeks. Strenuous work or exercise should not be resumed until at least 4 to 6 weeks have passed. It is important that your incisions are not subjected to excessive force, abrasion, or motion during this time.

As with all surgery, it is important to understand that these guidelines can vary widely based on the patient’s personal health, the techniques used, and other variable factors surrounding the surgery. Any severe pain should be reported to your doctor.

Seeing Your Results

Most swelling should subside within the first 4 to 6 weeks, although your final result may not be fully realized until up to 1 to 2 years. Your body contours should be permanently improved provided you do not lose or gain a significant amount of weight. However, age and gravity will eventually cause some loss of firmness.

Your scar will extend around the entire circumference of your body. Your surgeon will strive to place the scar as inconspicuously as possible, so that it will be hidden when wearing your chosen style of bathing suit. Scars will improve over time, continuing to flatten and fade for up to two years.

See plastic surgery before and after photos.

Sources:

Body Lift Surgery, Consumer Information Sheet, American Society of Plastic Surgeons; 

Cosmetic Surgery National Data Bank, American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; 2008 Annual Report.

2014 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report, American Society of Plastic Surgeons

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