Tummy tuck (abdominoplasty)

Your health expert: Mr Ian Grant, Consultant in Plastic Surgery
Content editor review by Victoria Goldman, January 2022
Next review due January 2025

A tummy tuck (abdominoplasty) is cosmetic surgery to take away loose skin and fat from your tummy. It may also tighten your tummy muscles. You may have liposuction at the same time, to help shape your tummy.

When is a tummy tuck necessary?

People have a tummy tuck for many different reasons. You may have it as part of another operation such as a hernia repair. Or you may want one because you have:

  • loose skin after you’ve lost a lot of weight
  • loose skin and muscles after pregnancy
  • scars on your tummy from earlier surgery or an injury

Tummy tuck surgery may make the shape of your tummy look better by taking away extra fat and skin and tightening your tummy muscles.

You’ll need to be as close to a healthy body weight as possible before your tummy tuck. Your GP or practice nurse may be able to advise you about this. Having a tummy tuck can’t help you lose or control your weight. It also won’t stop you from putting weight on in the future. You may not have a completely flat tummy afterwards.

Who may not be able to have tummy tuck surgery?

You may not be able to have tummy tuck surgery if you:

  • are a smoker
  • are very overweight
  • have had blood clots in the past
  • are planning on getting pregnant in the future
  • have heart disease or diabetes that isn’t controlled properly
  • have body dysmorphia – when you think there’s something wrong with how you look, even though there isn’t

A plastic surgeon will be able to tell you if the surgery is right for you.

Getting tummy tuck information and advice

Getting the right advice before having a tummy tuck is important. You need to have a good think about:

  • what you’re hoping to gain from surgery
  • what is and isn’t possible
  • the risks involved
  • the aftercare
  • the recovery time after surgery

If you decide to have tummy tuck surgery, it’s important to choose your surgeon carefully. You’ll need to make sure you find someone with the right training and qualifications. Your GP may be able to refer you to a suitable surgeon who works near you. Or they may give you advice on how to find one.

Take your time to decide whether or not to have a tummy tuck. It isn’t essential surgery, so you should think about how you’d feel and cope if there was a complication or something went wrong.

Make sure you see the surgeon who’ll be doing your operation before signing up. You should be given a ‘cooling off’ period of at least a couple of weeks before having surgery. If you still have questions after this, it may help to have a second consultation with your surgeon.

If you decide to go ahead, you’ll be asked to sign a consent form. This is why it’s important to make sure you feel properly informed. You can change your mind at any time before your procedure.

Preparing for a tummy tuck

Your surgeon will explain how to get ready for your operation.

If you smoke, you’ll need to stop smoking at least six weeks before your surgery. Smoking makes you more likely to get a chest and wound infection. It may also make your wounds heal more slowly. So, it may take you longer to recover after your surgery.

Your surgeon may advise you to:

  • lose some weight – you should be as close to the ideal weight for your height as possible before your operation
  • stop taking the contraceptive pill around four weeks before your operation, so you’re less likely to get a blood clot – make sure you use another form of contraception

If you’re overweight, you may be more likely to have complications after surgery than if you’re a healthy weight before surgery.

You have tummy tuck surgery under general anaesthesia. This means you’ll be asleep during the operation. You’ll usually have to stop eating or drinking for a few hours before your surgery. Your surgeon or anaesthetist will give you clear advice on what to do.

Your surgeon will explain what will happen before, during and after your operation. This is your chance to ask any remaining questions you have about your surgery. You’ll be asked to sign the consent form.

Your surgeon may ask you to wear compression stockings from the time of your operation until you’re able to move around properly again afterwards. This helps to stop blood clots forming in the veins in your legs.

What are the alternatives to tummy tuck?

Liposuction may be helpful if you’re not generally overweight and want to get rid of some fat from specific parts of your body. But a surgeon may not be able to tell you how well liposuction will work before you have it. When you have liposuction, your surgeon uses a tube to suck out any extra fat that’s under your skin.

You can have liposuction on its own, or you can have it as part of a tummy tuck procedure. Liposuction can help to change the shape of your tummy. But it only takes away unwanted fat. A tummy tuck takes away unwanted fat and skin, and can tighten up your tummy muscles.

You could have no surgery – then you’d avoid the cost, risks, pain and recovery time of surgery. Your surgeon can tell you about other alternatives to having a tummy tuck.

It may help to see a clinical psychologist to discuss:

  • how you feel about your body
  • how to feel more comfortable about how you look

What happens during a tummy tuck?

There are several different types of tummy tuck surgery. Your surgeon will explain which one is best for you. This may depend on how much skin and fat you want taken away. It may also depend on whether or not you want a smaller tummy tuck scar.

Most tummy tuck operations take around three hours.

Standard tummy tuck

Your surgeon will make a cut from one hip to the other along your pubic area. In women, this is called your bikini line. Then they’ll:

  • make another cut around your belly button to free it from the surrounding skin
  • tighten your tummy muscles and take away extra fat and skin
  • pull the remaining skin down and make a new hole, so your belly button’s in the right place

You’ll have a scar around your belly button and a long, curved scar on your tummy above your pubic area. Because of the normal pattern of pubic hair, the scar is generally higher in men than in women. These scars are usually (but not always) hidden by underwear or swimwear.

The picture below shows an example of where your scars will be after a tummy tuck. This varies from person to person and with the type of tummy tuck. Your surgeon will explain the scars you’re likely to have.

An image showing the position of the scars after abdominoplasty surgery

Mini tummy tuck

If you only need a small amount of skin or fat taken away, you may be able to have a mini tummy tuck.

Your surgeon will take away any unwanted skin and fat from your lower tummy.

Afterwards, you’ll have a curved scar above your pubic area. This may be slightly shorter than with a standard tummy tuck. Your belly button stays in the same place, but it may be a slightly different shape.

What to expect afterwards

You may be in hospital for up to three days after surgery.

When you wake up, you’ll have dressings over your lower tummy. You may also have thin tubes (drains) coming out of your wound to take away any fluid. These are usually taken out before you go home. Some surgeons may use newer techniques that don’t need drains. You may have a drip in your arm for fluids and medicines. This is usually taken out as soon as you can drink enough fluids.

You may feel a bit sore after a tummy tuck, so your surgeon or anaesthetist will prescribe painkillers.

While you're in bed, your surgeon may ask you to keep your knees bent. This means you don’t strain your muscles and stitches.

You’ll go home with your stitches in. Most surgeons use stitches that dissolve by themselves. Your nurse or doctor will tell you:

You'll need someone to drive you home. Try to have a friend or relative stay with you for at least 24 hours when you get home after your tummy tuck.

You mustn’t drive, drink alcohol, use machinery or sign legal documents for 24 hours after you’ve had a general anaesthetic. If you're not sure whether or not to drive, check with your motor insurer, and always follow your surgeon’s advice.

You may have any of the following.

  • Pain, bruising and swelling which will start to get better after a few days. Most swelling should go away after a few months.
  • Scars which will be very noticeable for the first few weeks. But then they’ll start to fade and blend in more with your normal skin tone. Scars don’t always disappear completely. Some people are more likely to have more noticeable scars.
  • Numbness because some of your nerves may be cut during a tummy tuck. Nerves heal very slowly, so it often takes months to get better. The numbness may not go away completely.

Recovering from a tummy tuck

After a tummy tuck, it’s important not to do too much too soon. The key is to pace yourself.

It usually takes about six weeks to recover, but everyone’s different. Your recovery time may depend on which operation you’ve had, so it's important to follow your surgeon's advice. You’re likely to need about four weeks off work.

When you get home, you may be advised to rest in bed for another day or two, but you should get up to use the toilet. You’ll recover faster if you’re up and about as soon as you feel well enough.

Avoid doing anything that strains your tummy muscles – roll onto your side to get out of bed.

If you need to, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

Your surgeon may ask you to wear a support garment (a type of corset) for up to six weeks after surgery. This helps to ease pain and discomfort, and to reduce swelling.

Exercises you can do after a tummy tuck

The hospital should tell you how much exercise to do and how long it will take to get back to normal. Your surgeon or physiotherapist may recommend suitable exercises and when to start doing them.

Take things slowly. You should be back to normal exercise in around six weeks. If you’re doing anything that pulls on the scar and feels like it’s stretching, take it a little slower. Your abdominal muscles protect your back when you lift, so you need to be careful until they’ve healed.

  • Start with gently walking around at home.
  • Go up and down stairs if it’s not too sore.
  • Start doing light activities, such as making drinks or light meals.
  • Once you’re comfortable around the house, gradually build up to longer walks of five to 10 minutes.
  • Avoid vigorous activity (including sports) or heavy lifting (including shopping) for up to 12 weeks.
  • Don’t have sex for three weeks after surgery.
  • Don’t drive for six weeks or until wearing a seatbelt feels comfortable.
  • Don’t do sit-up type exercises for at least six weeks and then take it slowly.

Once you have the go-ahead from your surgeon, you can do exercises to strengthen your tummy muscles. But don’t exercise before checking with your doctor because every operation and patient is different.

What are the complications?

Like all types of surgery, a tummy tuck can cause some complications. These complications include:

  • an unexpected reaction to the anaesthetic, including an allergic reaction
  • a lot of bleeding
  • getting a blood clot, usually in a vein in your leg (deep vein thrombosis, DVT)

Other complications of a tummy tuck include:

  • an infection – this may need antibiotics
  • bleeding under your skin (haematoma) – you may need more surgery to stop the bleeding and drain the area
  • seroma – a collection of fluid around your wound that may need draining with a needle and syringe
  • unusually red or raised scars – these may take several months to fade
  • a blood clot in your lungs (pulmonary embolus)
  • damage inside your body – for example, to your blood vessels, muscles or bowel – this may temporary or permanent and may mean you need more surgery
  • loose skin and fat between your scar and new belly button
  • your body not looking the same on both sides – this is called asymmetry
  • bulges at the ends of your scar – this may need more surgery to fix it
  • deep stitches poking out of your skin in the weeks after your surgery – these can be removed easily by the surgeon
  • problems with wound healing – these can slow down your recovery and cause more noticeable scars
  • pins and needles, a burning sensation, numbness or pain on touching the skin – this is because nerves get damaged during the operation; this may be permanent in some people.

If you smoke, you may be more likely to have complications after surgery. You’re also more likely to have complications if you have diabetes. Your surgeon will want to make sure your diabetes is under control before and after surgery. Talk to your surgeon if you’re at all worried.

A small number of people are at higher risk of getting sepsis after surgery. Sepsis is the body’s life-threatening response to an infection. This is rare but is a medical emergency that needs special care. If you have a fever or any of the following symptoms after surgery, see the hospital straightaway or call 111 (the NHS emergency number):

  • chills or feeling very cold
  • finding it hard to breath
  • not having much energy
  • diarrhoea
  • being sick or feeling sick
  • a rash that’s spreading quickly

Scars usually fade over time but won't go away completely. For the first few weeks they’ll be very noticeable. But then they should start to blend in more with your normal skin tone. For more information, see our section: What to expect afterwards.

Not everyone can have a tummy tuck. The surgery may not be right for you if you’re a heavy smoker, are very overweight or have had blood clots in the past. For more information, see our section: Who may not be able to have tummy tuck surgery?

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