Procedures used to repair and reconstruct skin and underlying tissue or alter its appearance
Skin or tissue that has been damaged or destroyed as a result of disease or injury or that has been malformed since birth can often be repaired or reconstructed using plastic surgery. The aim of plastic surgery is to restore the appearance and function of the affected area as much as possible with minimal visible scarring. A form of plastic surgery known as cosmetic surgery may be used in healthy people to disguise the signs of aging or to change the shape of part of the body. Cosmetic surgery may also be used following disease or injury. For example, skin grafting can improve the appearance of burned skin, and breast reconstruction is often carried out after a mastectomy has been performed (see Surgery for breast cancer).
Some congenital conditions, such as a cleft lip and palate, can be corrected by plastic surgery. Plastic surgery can also be used in sex change operations to create or remove breasts and male and female genitals.
Before you have plastic surgery, it is important to obtain as much information as possible about the risks of the procedure and the likelihood of a good outcome. You should also check that the surgeon is well qualified and experienced in the techniques to be used.
What happens during the operation?
In most plastic surgery, general anaesthesia is needed (see Having a general anaesthetic). However, minor procedures, such as removing a mole, may be performed under local anaesthesia (see Having a local anaesthetic). Various surgical techniques may be used, depending on the nature of the operation. A technique that is commonly used in plastic surgery is skin grafting, in which a piece of healthy skin is detached from one part of the body and is placed over a damaged area in another part. Another commonly used technique is the skin and muscle flap, in which a section of skin and underlying muscle is moved from one area of the body to replace damaged tissue in another area. This technique may be used together with an implant to reconstruct a breast following a mastectomy.
Cosmetic surgery uses a range of techniques that are either the same or similar to those used in plastic surgery to alter a person’s appearance. For example, in cosmetic surgery the techniques used to alter breast size are similar to those used to reconstruct a breast following a mastectomy.
What are the risks?
Plastic surgery carries the risks of infection and bleeding that all other types of surgery share. Swelling and bruising after the operation are also common. When skin is grafted, the graft sometimes fails to attach properly to the new area, and the procedure needs to be repeated.
There is also the risk that plastic surgery may not produce as satisfactory an effect as initially expected, and any operation in which the skin is cut will leave visible scars, although the surgeon will ensure that scarring is as minimal and unobtrusive as possible.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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