How safe is it for me to have surgery if I am obese?

Arthur W. Perry, MD
Plastic Surgery
According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, obesity is increasing in the US. In fact, nearly a third of people in 12 states are obese. And while that's bad for your overall health, it's really bad if you're going to have surgery.
A recent study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine showed that obese patients had an enormous increase in complications after breast surgery. That means that if you are obese, you have an 18% chance of a complication after surgery. If you're lean, it's 2%. Complications like infections, bleeding and blood clots are all increased in obese patients. And surgery is bloodier, takes longer, and requires higher amounts of anesthetic drugs if you weigh more. And that means you will take longer to recover from your surgery.

Surgeons have known for years that obese patients don't do as well with surgery as skinny patients. But the numbers have never been as clear as they are now. And while this study was done on procedures like breast reductions, lifts and augmentations, it certainly makes sense that risks are similarly increased in most, if not all, surgery.

If you need your gall bladder out in the middle of the night, then you must accept these increased risks of surgery. But if you are planning elective surgery, this data is a strong push to cut those portions, eliminate those snacks, and get off the couch and into the gym. Your goal should be to decrease your weight from the obese classification to at least the "overweight" category. Of course, normal weight is even better and slow, steady progress with healthy life changes will eventually lead you there. And the prize, besides feeling better and living longer, will be lower risks of surgery.

If your surgery is for strictly cosmetic reasons, my advice is to not have that surgery until your weight drops. Plastic surgeons frequently decline to perform cosmetic surgery on smokers, diabetics and people with heart disease because of their increased risks of postoperative complications. With this new data, obesity earns a place on this list.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.