Emotional Changes After Plastic Surgery: What You Need to Know

Reviewed by Ronald E. Iverson, MD, FACS

While studies have shown that plastic surgery offers many potential improvements in quality of life, other studies indicate that it can produce unfavorable emotional changes for some people.

Reasons for Emotional Changes

A tremendous amount of effort goes into a plastic surgery decision. Anticipation of the procedure can cause stress. Recovery is another issue, whether it includes the mixed emotion of grieving the facial or bodily imperfection loss, or the lack of support from a family member or friends. For example, your child may prefer that mom would look just the way she always was. In fact, the initial discomforting recovery appearance, such as bruising and swelling, may bring on the "blues" for quite a few weeks after surgery.

Postoperative depression is not uncommon with any surgery. The symptoms of postoperative depression are similar to those associated with post-partum depression. After recovery, the emotional and social challenge associated with gazing eyes or disapproving looks from others can produce feelings of isolation or anger. At the same time, the final results may be very positive, in some cases a dramatic alteration.

People who are predisposed to depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and other psychological issues are more likely to experience an emotional letdown after a plastic surgery procedure. But emotional changes sometimes come with the standard plastic surgery territory. In fact, today plastic surgeons provide preoperative and postoperative counseling to help you thrive emotionally as your body improves physically.

A Strong Self-Image

Ideal candidates for plastic surgery are those who are uncomfortable with a physical trait or defect that can be improved with plastic surgery. While plastic surgery may improve self-image, it is important to have a healthy self-image prior to the procedure.

Managing Expectations

It is important to have realistic expectations. While the procedure may positively impact the perception of those around you, the increased attention or disappointment of those around you may be a new challenge to manage. Going into plastic surgery to improve a bodily or facial flaw is one thing; expectations to improve the rest of your life are another thing. While the results of plastic surgery may positively shape many aspects of your life, it's not the most appropriate reason to have surgery. The appropriate reason for cosmetic surgery is to improve the appearance of a specific area of your body.

A study in 2005 by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons found that 75 percent of the respondents indicated that they chose plastic surgery to gain an improved appearance and a more active lifestyle. Likewise, 70 percent sighted emotional and psychological rewards after surgery, with notable happiness and renewed self-esteem and confidence. Equally impressive, 45 percent enjoyed the daily benefit of being more attractive.

Red Flags

It is critical to communicate every aspect of your health and care with your doctor. Be sure to disclose medical conditions you have and medications you are taking. Some patients are not aware that cosmetic procedures can be very serious surgical operations. Doctors must be informed about every aspect of the patient's health.

Effective communication reduces the risk of complications. For example, there have been a few reports of patients who did not disclose or know they had sleep apnea, and died in the postoperative recovery unit. If that had been known that beforehand, the doctor could have taken precautionary measures to ensure patient safety.

It is also vital to accurately describe the body feature that troubles you. This is extremely important in plastic surgery, with so many procedures and techniques to choose from. Without an honest discussion with your surgeon, you may not know whether you want breast enlargement or a breast lift, or liposuction or a tummy tuck. An accurate description of your desired changes and results can help avoid unexpected outcomes or the need for additional procedures.

Plastic surgeons will screen patients to identify patients who may experience harmful emotional changes. While emotional problems do not necessarily mean that a person will be excluded from treatment, it may mean that precautionary measures are taken to ensure patient safety.

Prospective patients who are high risk for psychological problems may be counseled by the plastic surgeon or referred to counseling before the plastic surgeon will recommend surgery.

  • Patients who are going through stressful life changes such as a divorce or job loss may not be candidates for plastic surgery at that time.
  • Patients with goals to achieve perfection, or requesting multiple repeated procedures, may not be appropriate for plastic surgery.
  • Patients who have mental illness will need a coordinated treatment plan between the plastic surgeon and attending psychiatrist. This plan will factor in medications that may be necessary before and after the procedure.

Precautionary measures are a small price to pay when compared with complications that can occur if the doctor is not aware of what's happening in all aspects of a patient's life.

About the Reviewer of This Article

Ronald E. Iverson, MD, FACS, is a board-certified plastic surgeon, a member and former president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, a member of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, and an American Medical Association delegate. Dr. Iverson received his medical degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and performed his residency at Stanford University Medical Center, General Surgery and Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.