From Weight Loss to Skin Excision: The Entire Journey

Dr Swetnam and Miller

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As a surgeon that wears many different hats during the week (Cosmetic Surgery, Reconstructive Surgery, Bariatric Surgery, and General Surgery), I am faced with constant challenges; and it is a significant challenge to keep everyone satisfied.  As one of my favorite subjects, today I’ll discuss post weight loss cosmetic surgery.

sleeve gastrectomy

Typically, bariatric surgery patients first and foremost have decided to take the plunge in changing their lives.   I heard it best this week from a patient who told me, “Dr. Miller, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” It’s a lifetime of habits that they must break: the way they eat, the way they exercise, even just the way they think. The positive repercussions of weight loss are legion.  It truly is an entire lifestyle change.  It is amazing for me to see how one positive change by a bariatric patient effects those around them.  I recently saw a patient that was 12 weeks out from a sleeve gastrectomy.

To both of our satisfaction, he had already lost 70 pounds.  On top of that, his wife had also lost 30 pounds just by following the same diet that I’d ask him to impart postoperatively.  The little cherry on top of all this icing post surgery was that their daughter had also decided to begin to make healthy food choices, resulting in weight loss as well.  It’s amazing how one positive decision begets another positive decision.  

Unfortunately, one of the few anticipated post weight loss “problems” (besides having to purchase a new “skinny” wardrobe), is what to do with all the extra skin that sometimes results from losing excess weight…? The thing is, not everyone ends up with excess skin.  Really, it depends on multiple factors: the patient’s age (no, I didn’t just call you old); how many children a patient may have had; excess roller coaster weight loss and gain over the year; and the personal skin elasticity of a patient.  The latter really making the majority of the difference.  Quite honestly, it really comes down to how you picked your parents when it comes to skin elasticity.  Genetics is key to just about everything under the sun, and skin elasticity certainly falls into that category. 

So why does this matter? Think of it this way: if you have a 10 pound sack of potatoes and take out 9 pounds of those potatoes, you’ve got a lot of sack left over, right?  Sometimes this sack shrinks down, and other times it does not.  Again, all as a result (or lack thereof) of the degree of skin elasticity someone may or may not have.   I am often asked if exercise will help to tighten up the skin. Unfortunately, I can assure you that all the sit-ups and jogging in the world will not help that excess skin to shrink. 

So, what is the answer then?  What do I do now that I’ve lost this weight and my skin gets rashes between the folds?  And sure, I’ve lost a significant amount of weight, but my clothes still don’t fit right lugging this extra skin around!  This is where the post weight loss re-contouring comes into play. 

Though not every post weight loss patient needs them, there are multiple  body contouring options for those that do post weight loss: tummy tucks, liposuction, arm lifts, breast lifts, thigh lifts, and body lifts. Typically, one or a combination of these procedures have been successfully used after weight loss surgery to refine patients’ bodies, and help them enjoy everyday activities as they envisioned at the beginning of their journey.  The most common procedure that Dr. Swetnam performs is the tummy tuck.  Essentially, that entails not just removing the excess skin present, but also tightening up the actual abdominal muscles.  We basically create an internal corset that results in a waist that many people had not seen for many, many years.

Following the tummy tuck, I would say that breast lifts are our next most common procedure post weight loss.  It’s amazing to see how people’s attitudes change as they continue along their weight loss journey.  Specifically, people who had become shy wall flowers virtually become alive again. Their inner personality that had been stifled for so long is reawakened.  No longer just satisfied to wear bulky sweaters and oversized tshirts to hide their insecurities, they sometimes pursue breast lifts.  Breasts that were once being tucked into their front pockets are now perky and full on the top of their chest- right where they should be.

Following breast lifts, arm lifts (sometimes termed brachioplasty in doctor-ese) would be the next most common procedure performed.  It is essentially just removing extra skin and remaining fat to create a nicely contoured arm again.  Thigh lifts are much like arm lifts, except just a bit further south.  I would say that thighs are the most challenging to operate on, as God didn’t create us in anticipation of having incisions in our groins (location required to lift up those thighs again).

So when should a post weight loss patient consider having body contouring procedures done?  Typically, I suggest that a patient be within 80% of their weight loss goal.  Typically, this is at sometime between 12 and 18 months.  As I said, body contouring is not something that is essential from a health perspective, but rather as the end result of a long journey.  It’s basically seeing the final end point result come to fruition.  It has been said more than once that we are flattered to be a part of this whole process, both as the wearing the weight loss surgeon’s hat, as well as that of  the body re-contouring surgeon’s.  We literally know our patients inside and out!

Come see us today for your complimentary Cosmetic consultation!!

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