Making sense of surgery risks

I have written on cosmetic plastic surgery complications in the past:

Complications of tummy tucks

Complications of breast augmentation

Complications of Liposuction

Cosmetic Plastic surgery complications are a fact of life. As much as you and your cosmetic plastic surgeon want nothing to do with complications, they can and do occur. The challenge for both plastic surgery patients and cosmetic plastic surgeons is to minimize the risks.

complications photo

Risk of complications common to cosmetic plastic surgery

Anesthesia risk

The risk of dying under general anesthesia, if you are reasonably healthy, is the same as the risk of dying in a car crash driving for five minutes in an urban area! There—that’s what everyone is worried about, isn’t it?
The risks of local anesthesia are very low and mainly involve getting too much anesthesia and getting a toxic dose. This is why large-volume liposuction are rarely performed these days.
Other complications can, of course, occur, but they are typically rare. These include:

  • soreness of muscles from being positioned in an uncomfortable manner
  • soreness of the throat from the placement of the breathing tube (50% risk)
  • damage to teeth (less than 2% risk), dentures or caps
  • scratching of the cornea (less than 2% risk)


The risk of bleeding is about 2% for most cosmetic surgeries. Bleeding is an important complication that most surgeons will do a great deal to avoid, as the results of surgery can be very adversely affected by hematomas, which are collections of blood. Most bleeding will occur within the first 48 hours. After that, the risk is decreased significantly. The risk of hematoma can rise, however, if patients take any blood-thinning medicines like aspirin, Motrin or other non steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.


The risk of most infections after cosmetic surgery is about 2%.  Despite the fact that surgery is performed in a sterile manner, there is a minimal and finite risk for infection in all surgery based on the bacteria on the skin and the ability of the body to deal with an influx of bacteria. Surgeries in areas with a high amount of bacteria, such as the mouth or gut, will have higher rates of infection. In some very rare cases, there are virulent “flesh-eating bacteria” on the skin, and the moment they get a chance to invade the body through a cut, they can cause severe and life-threatening infections!

Morad Tavallali, M.D., FACS