What You Need to Know About Infection After Plastic Surgery

How infection affects your procedure's results — and do you need to worry

woman recovering in hospital
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Infection is a potential risk of plastic surgery. Simply stated, an infection is an overgrowth of bacteria. Your skin provides a natural defense against infection. A break in the surface of the skin, such as a scratch or an incision, provides an entry site for bacteria. Luckily, with some precautions, you can make sure that your incisions stay infection-free. And considering, the risk of infection after plastic surgery is less than 1 percent and antibiotics reduce this risk dramatically — it shouldn't be too difficult.

 

Who Is at Risk for Infection After Plastic Surgery

Anyone can get an infection after plastic surgery. However, there are some groups of people who are more susceptible to infection. Diabetics, smokers, and those who take steroids or have certain vascular conditions are at greater risk. Additionally, you are more likely to have an infection as the length of your operation increases.

Lowering Your Risk

Before every surgery, great care is taken to prepare the skin with an antiseptic solution prior to making an incision. Aseptic surgical technique is also utilized to avoid infection. Despite these efforts, bacteria can find their way into an incision. In the majority of cases, the body's own defense mechanisms destroy these bacteria to prevent them from multiplying into infections.

How an Infection Affects Plastic Surgery

An infection is harmful because it prevents the incision from healing normally.

In plastic surgery, this failure to heal can have a detrimental impact on the final appearance. In the case of breast augmentation or chin augmentation, if the infection spreads from the incision to the implant, the implant may have to be removed. Most doctors will wait 3-6 months before trying to place a new implant.

After a tummy tuck or a facelift, if an incision has to be reopened to allow drainage of pus or infected fluid, this can result in a more visible scar.

Infection Warning Signs

There are several telltale signs and symptoms of an infection. Any of these signs or symptoms warrants a call to your surgeon:

  • Fever greater than 101.5°F
  • Increased pain at the incision site
  • Increased redness at the incision site
  • Increased warmth at the incision site
  • Foul odor coming from the incision
  • Discharge draining from the incision

Treatment

Infection following an operation is often treated with oral antibiotics. Occasionally, it is necessary to remove stitches and reopen the incision to allow the infection to drain. Sometimes the wound needs to remain open, which can result in a more visible scar. The scar can often be revised at a later date. For a more severe infection, additional surgery and an admission to the hospital for intravenous antibiotics may be necessary. If there is an implant involved, it may have to be removed.

Fortunately, infection after plastic surgery is a rare event. Your plastic surgeon will do her part to ensure proper aseptic technique during your surgery. By staying healthy before your surgery and following your surgeon's instruction after surgery, you can help lower the risk of infection, and enhance your final result.

Sources:

Ghavami A. Genioplasty. In Janis JE, ed. Essentials of Plastic Surgery. St. Louis: Quality Medical Publishing, 2007.

Leaper D. Prevention and treatment of surgical site infection: Summary of NICE guidance. British Medical Journal 2008 337:a1924.

Loftus JM. The Smart Woman's Guide to Plastic Surgery. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Mulholland MW, Doherty GM. Complications in Surgery. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2006.

Nichols RL. Preventing Surgical Site Infections. Emerging Infectious Diseases. Mar-Apr 2001 7:2.

Surgical Antisepsis. Reproductive Health Online. Accessed: October 22, 2010. http://www.reproline.jhu.edu/english/4morerh/4ip/IP_manual/06_Antisepsis.pdf​

Tyrone JW, Mustoe TA. The Principles of Wound Healing. In Weinzweig J, ed. Plastic Surgery Secrets. Philadelphia: Hanley and Belfus, Inc., 1999.

Parker TH, Decherd ME. Breast Augmentation. In Janis JE, ed. Essentials of Plastic Surgery. St. Louis: Quality Medical Publishing, 2007.

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