All plastic, cosmetic and reconstructive surgical procedures come with risks and potential complications. To ensure successful surgery, it is crucial to understand and minimise these risks. Whilst all measures are taken to mitigate risks, some risks unavoidable.
All information on this page is general in nature – your Specialist Plastic Surgeon will discuss the specific risks and complications pertinent to your individual surgical procedure during your consultation.
There are general risks associated with any surgical procedure. These include:
- Risks of general anaesthesia: These risks can vary depending on the type of anaesthesia used, but they can include respiratory problems, heart problems, and allergic reactions.
- Bleeding (haematoma): This is a collection of blood that can occur under the skin or in a muscle. It is usually minor and does not require treatment, but it can sometimes be serious and require surgery.
- Fluid build-up (seroma): This is a collection of fluid that can occur under the skin or in a muscle. It is usually minor and does not require treatment, but it can sometimes be serious and require surgery.
- Infection: This is a rare but serious complication of surgery. It can be caused by bacteria that enter the body through the surgical incision or through the bloodstream. Infection can lead to pain, swelling, redness, warmth, and discharge from the incision. In severe cases, infection can lead to sepsis, which is a life-threatening condition.
- Delayed wound healing or wound breakdown: This is a rare but serious complication of surgery. It can be caused by a number of factors, including infection, poor blood flow, and smoking. Delayed wound healing can lead to pain, infection, and scarring.
- Allergic reactions: Allergic reactions to anaesthesia or to surgical materials are rare, but they can be serious. Allergic reactions can cause a variety of symptoms, including hives, itching, swelling, and difficulty breathing.
- Numbness or nerve damage: This is a rare but serious complication of surgery. It can be caused by damage to nerves during surgery. Numbness or nerve damage can be temporary or permanent.
- Pain and discomfort: Patients may experience some pain and discomfort around the incision areas during the recovery period. This is normal and should gradually improve over time. If you experience any severe pain or discomfort, please contact your surgeon.
- Swelling, bruising and skin discolouration: These are common side effects of surgery. They usually go away on their own within a few weeks.
- Abnormal scarring including hypertrophic or keloid scars: This is a rare but serious complication of surgery. Hypertrophic scars are raised and red scars that can be larger than the original wound. Keloid scars are raised, thick, and bumpy scars that can extend beyond the original wound.
- Revision surgery needed to correct or improve outcome: This is a rare but serious complication of surgery. It can be necessary to correct or improve the outcome of surgery if there are complications, such as infection or bleeding.
Serious and life-threatening risks
Some serious, life-threatening risks of surgery include:
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): A blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body, usually in the leg. DVT can travel to the lungs and cause a life-threatening condition called pulmonary embolism (PE).
- Stroke: A sudden loss of blood flow to the brain that can cause brain damage or death.
- Cardiac arrhythmia: An abnormal heart rhythm that can lead to heart failure or sudden cardiac death.
- Heart attack: A blockage in a coronary artery that reduces blood flow to the heart muscle.
- Death: While rare, death is a possible risk of any surgery.
Specific risks related to your procedure
For specific risks related to the procedure you are considering, please read the individual procedure page.
Additional risk factors
There are additional risk factors for cosmetic surgery, which may apply to certain patients. These risk factors include:
- Smoking or nicotine intake: Smoking can increase the risk of complications from surgery, such as infection and delayed healing.
- Smoking or vaping is one of the greatest risk factors when it comes to optimal results from plastic surgery. It is recommended that patients quit smoking for at least four weeks before pursuing surgery and avoid smoking or nicotine intake for at least 2 weeks after surgery.
- Medication intake: Some medications can interact with anaesthesia, so it is important to tell your surgeon about all of the medications you are taking before surgery.
- Substance use or lifestyle factors: Certain lifestyle factors, such as obesity and poor nutrition, can also increase the risk of complications from surgery.
- Improper wound care: It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions for wound care after surgery to reduce the risk of infection.
- Weight/body mass index (BMI) or obesity: Obesity can increase the risk of complications from surgery, such as difficulty breathing and healing problems.
- Underlying health conditions: If you have any underlying health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, these conditions may increase the risk of complications from surgery.
- Allergies: If you have any allergies, be sure to tell your surgeon before surgery.
- Sensitivity: If you have any sensitivities, such as to latex or certain medications, be sure to tell your surgeon before surgery.
- Genetics: Your genes may also play a role in determining your risk of complications from surgery.
Pre-operative & Post-operative General Information Sheets
Pre-operative (prior to surgery) & post-operative (after surgery) information sheets for surgical procedures can be found here.
Undergoing plastic, cosmetic and reconstructive surgery is a serious decision and is not risk-free. It is essential to conduct research and understand the risks and potential complications before undergoing surgery.
Discussing your concerns and risk factors with your surgeon can help minimise or prevent these risks and ensure a successful surgery and recovery. Additionally, the informed consent forms and ASPS Surgery Documentation we provide will outline information on risks and complications.
You will be provided with a comprehensive list of potential risks and complications, including those specific to your chosen surgical procedure. It is essential to thoroughly review all materials related to your surgery and follow your surgeon’s advice closely to reduce risks.
You must also understand that you will need time, support and appropriate post-surgical care to recover. We will provide you realistic information about the recovery process, including details on any necessary recovery services like massages or compression garments, and expected or potential lifestyle changes such as absence from employment or temporary restrictions on activity.
Please note that surgery or hospital admissions required to address complications from cosmetic surgery will not attract any Medicare rebates and therefore unexpected expenses will occur if these situations occur. You should make sure that you are prepared for these unexpected costs in the rare event that they do arise.
Although surgery and recovery may not always go as planned, by choosing a Specialist Plastic Surgeon and undergoing your procedure in an accredited private hospital, you can have peace of mind knowing that you cared for by a highly skilled medical team in case of any unforeseen events.