Risks of Plastic Surgery — The Risk-Benefit Ratio

Whatever surgery or medical procedure you are considering, it is your responsibility to learn all you can about it, including benefits, risks, limitations, complications of the surgery, potential adverse reactions, side effects, aftereffects, available alternative treatments, realistic expectations, the time required and the cost. Do your homework. Medical tourists need to do all this before traveling for surgery. This is your decision alone and it is frequently life-changing.

graphic: Risks of Plastic Surgery | Surgical Complications | Smoking Health Risk | Risk of Cosmetic Surgery | Surgical Incision Complications

Surgery and the practice of medicine are not exact sciences. Medical doctors often disagree.

Good surgical results are expected. They are always the goal. But no surgery comes with a guarantee. Whether in Bangkok, Belgrade, Brisbane, Boston, Boulder or Bristol -- ALL surgery carries some risk. No warranty is expressed or implied so no need to ask for one. Almost all surgery involves at least some pain.

You must evaluate the possible good result of having the operation or procedure against the risk of complications or side effects -- the Risk-Benefit Ratio. The results may not be what you anticipate. The worst surgical results are very rare but do occur. It may be impossible to get the very best results from a single surgical procedure. Additional surgery may be required. Complications of surgery or less than satisfactory results may be unavoidable. You may be disappointed. There may be factors beyond anyone's control.

graphic: Risk of Lipo Suction Surgery | Risks of Cosmetic Surgery | Complications of Surgery |  Smoking Health Risk | Complications after Surgery

Even if a surgeon has a 100% success rate or a nearly a 100% success rate for a certain procedure, your surgery may be the first time the physician experiences a problem. The most common post-surgical problems are infections. In the United States, about 14.7% of all surgical patients develop life-threatening infections in their wounds and about 0.6% result in death.

Surgery can result in loss of limbs and disfigurement. Surgery leaves scars.

Other surgical and post-surgical problems include coma, surgical shock, blood clots, bleeding, hematoma, abnormal heart rhythm, necrosis, seromas, seizures, heart attacks, brain damage, loss of function, loss of sensation, change of sensation, localized paralysis, poor healing, persistent pain, temporary or permanent injury to blood vessels and muscles, partial collapse of the lungs, pneumonia, nerve damage, aspiration, bruising, headaches, nausea, dizziness, numbness, tingling, asymmetry, hypothermia, depression, visible deformities at the ends of the incisions (dog ears), wound separation, suture reaction, immune reaction, hair problems, chills, fever, discharge, inflammation, itching, swelling, stress, rash, auto-immune disease, skin contour irregularities such as wrinkling, dimples, puckers, and divots as well as skin discoloration.

Temporary nerve damage can cause loss of sensation for 6-12 months and in some cases can take 2-3 years to completely regenerate. A severed nerve will result in numbness and permanent inability to move the affected muscle.

Surgery you get now may interfere with certain diagnostic procedures in the future.

All surgical anesthesia or sedation involves risk.

Every patient's surgery-specific and disease-specific variables and his/her overall health makes it a tremendous challenge for a doctor to correctly forecast the surgical outcome. A complete and honest medical history is extremely important. Do not edit or censor your own medical history. Be honest. Do not lie about or hide important information such as you recently had chemotherapy to treat cancer or you are taking anti-depressants or you are HIV+ or have Hepatitis B.

The body's ability to heal varies from person to person.

A patient's health and physiology as well as the type of surgery all impact on the degree of complications and level of risk. If you are not young, have pre-existing medical problems such as diabetes, heart conditions or allergies, if you have a history of cardiovascular disease, lung disease or obesity or if you smoke (or ingest nicotine any other way such as gums, patches, second-hand smoke, nasal spray), then you are more likely to experience complications, including pneumonia, stroke, heart attack, and blood clots in the legs or lungs.

Smoking Risks

Stop smoking at least six weeks before surgery and avoid any contact with nicotine. Non-smokers and persons with no exposure to nicotine in any way have significantly less risk of complications because nicotine restricts blood flow and impairs healing. Smokers have greater risk of skin loss and higher incidence of necrosis due to blood vessel constriction and a decreased oxygen supply.

It is vital that you report to the doctor any problems, allergies, reactions or complications you have experienced from previous surgery, medicines, anesthesia, foods or medical treatments so the surgeon can make every effort to eliminate or minimize risks. You must inform the surgeon of all vitamins, minerals, herbs, food supplements, hormones (oral contraceptives) and drugs you are taking so he can evaluate their probable effect on the surgery, your response to anesthesia and your recovery. Supplements such as Vitamin E and St. John's wort as well as drugs such as warfarin and aspirin can increase risk of bleeding during surgery. Tell your doctor of any history of blood clots, shortness of breath, chest pains, or unusual heart beats.

Post-op care and therapy need to be followed carefully and faithfully. Failure to follow a surgeon's instructions after surgery may be considered sufficient grounds for the doctor and/or hospital to refuse to treat any resulting complications. For example, contrary to what some medical tourism agents promote in their effort to promote "tours" in addition to medical procedures, it is probably very inadvisable for you to spend any time on a beach or in the sun after surgery.

Follow your doctor's advice about proper self-care after surgery. Consult your surgeon first before inviting any other doctor to intervene in what you consider a problem or complication because it may make the final outcome worse rather than better as well as causing the performing surgeon and hospital to discontinue his/her post-op care for you.

If you have recently had a very traumatic event in your life such as the death of a loved one, loss of your job or divorce from your spouse, or if you are being treated for significant emotional depression or other mental health disorders, it may be advisable to delay getting any surgery because it is more likely you will be dissatisfied with the surgical results — no matter what they are.

It is reasonable to expect improvement but not perfection from elective surgery. It can improve self-esteem, reduce perception of vulnerability and increase confidence.

Many patients experience psychological benefits but the effects of elective surgery on mental health cannot be accurately predicted.

Many doctors actively try to minimize patient expectations for elective surgical outcomes to increase the probability the patient will find the actual result better than the expected result. They advise patients against expecting elective surgery will make them a “movie star”, enhance their social life, solve problems, save a failing relationship or gain them a promotion.

While it is important to have realistic expectations and be well informed about risks and possible complications, studies (examples listed below) have shown “more attractive” people have greater romantic opportunities resulting in a better selection of potential significant others, they make friends easier, are more outgoing, and are generally viewed by many other people as more intelligent, more honest, more successful, and more capable.

Studies have also shown "attractiveness" impacts on hiring, salary, promotions and professional recognition as well as better and quicker service in commercial establishments. Consider BOTH risks AND benefits when calculating your Risk-Benefit Ratio.

Here's some additional, relevant reading you may find interesting:

Nonverbal Cues-based First Impressions: Impression Formation Through Exposure to Static Images

Why Beautiful People are More Intelligent

The Influence of Physical Appearance on Personnel Selection