No medical procedure is without risk. Even a simple “flu shot” could result in death from an allergic reaction. Similarly, all surgical procedures carry at least a small risk of death. (So too does crossing the street to get to the doctor’s office!) Your plastic surgeon must discuss both the more common complications and the most serious ones, even if they are extremely rare.

Any surgical procedure can be complicated by infection, skin loss over the treated area, and failure to heal. These problems are much more frequent in smokers. Fatal blood clots can also (rarely) result from surgery, although airplanes can cause these as well. This risk rises with the length of surgery and degree of immobility after surgery.

Widened or thickened scars can result from healing problems after any procedure, even a laser treatment or chemical peel. Sometimes minor irregularity or asymmetry can remain after surgery, requiring secondary surgery.

Excessive bleeding can require a blood transfusion during extensive procedures. Bleeding can also result in a hematoma (collection of blood between the skin and underlying tissues), needing a second procedure to drain it.

If a foreign material such as silicone or a bone substitute is used, infection will usually result in loss of the implant. Permanent loss of sensation (numbness) in the region can follow any surgery.

Specific additional problems can occur with different procedures:

Surgery of the nose can result in partial blockage of the nostril, requiring a further surgical procedure.

Facelifts or other facial surgery, such as liposuction, can cause paralysis in the muscles used for expression. This results in a droopy eyebrow or lopsided smile. Lumpiness of the skin can occur due to hematomas (collections of blood between the skin and underlying tissues).

Blepharoplasty (eyelid) risks include being unable to close the eyelids fully after the surgery and chronic dryness. Occasionally this problem may be permanent. It may require long-term use of an eye lubricant or further surgery. Damage to the cornea can also result. A very rare but very serious complication of a blepharoplasty is blindness.

A chemical peel can cause a temporarily irregular heartbeat. Peeling can also change skin color. For this reason, caution has to be used in the olive complexioned. It completely bleaches out freckles. If you have freckles, this results in a very sudden change in skin appearance at the edge of the peeled area.

Dermabrasion carries many of the same risks to skin color as a chemical peel. Irregular removal or tearing and scarring of the skin can occur.

Breast surgery, in particular breast reduction, can result in nipple numbness or loss.

Liposuction can cause rippling or dimpling of the suctioned areas. Massive skin loss could follow infection. Deaths following liposuction have generally involved improper surgical techniques by untrained doctors, or outpatient surgery for major procedures, with inadequate fluid replacement.

Injection of fillers (e.g. Juvéderm, Restylane, Perlane, Radiesse, etc.) or fat into the face can result in blindness.

Because the human body is complex, and plastic surgery is a large field, no list can be comprehensive. However, you should also remember that serious complications are rare. Every year, many people have the types of procedures described here without encountering any problems.

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