Are You a Good Candidate for a Tummy Tuck?

Reviewed by Richard J. Greco, MD, FACS

Tummy tuck (abdominoplasty) is a popular plastic surgery procedure that can help firm your abdomen by removing excess skin and fat and tightening the underlying abdominal muscles. If you are considering a tummy tuck, the best way to find out if you are an appropriate candidate is a consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon. Your surgeon will assess your skin's elasticity, muscle laxity, degree of stretch marks and type of belly fat to determine whether tummy tuck is right for you.

What makes a good tummy tuck candidate? First, you need extra skin on your abdomen, or muscle weakness, or both to benefit from a tummy tuck. In addition, ideal candidates for tummy tuck must be in relatively good physical shape to tolerate this procedure.

Women who have experienced one or more pregnancy are often good candidates for abdominoplasty. Pregnancy affects each woman differently. In some, pregnancy may lead to muscle weakness alone; in others, it may result in loose skin of the abdomen. Some women may have loose skin, muscle weakness and extra fat. The muscles and skin may not bounce back after childbirth without surgical assistance. For these reasons, a tummy tuck is often part of a mommy makeover, a combination procedure designed to help mothers regain their pre-pregnancy body contours.

The normal aging process can also cause abdominal skin to sag or lose elasticity, making many older individuals suitable tummy tuck candidates.

Some people who have lost massive amounts of weight through bariatric surgery are candidates for tummy tuck. Weight loss surgery is in fact the most common precursor to male tummy tuck. However, many of these individuals have excessive amounts of hanging fat or flab (pannus) which extends to their sides or back. These patients may be better candidates for another procedure called extended tummy tuck, also known as a circumferential belt lipectomy or "around the world" tummy tuck. In others who are still significantly overweight and have a large pannus, a panniculectomy may be an option.

Who May Not Be a Good Candidate?

Patients who are not in good health need a complete physical workup before being considered as a candidate. If you are still overweight or have a significant amount of intra-abdominal fat that surrounds your internal organs, you may need to slim down before considering a tummy tuck. Internal or external scars from any previous abdominal surgery may also affect your candidacy.

Women who are not done having children should postpone this surgery until after their final pregnancy because the muscles that are repaired can separate again during pregnancy. There may be other reasons to postpone a tummy tuck procedure, which your doctor can determine after a thorough consultation.

Alternatives to Tummy Tuck

Diet and exercise are the main ways to improve the appearance of your abdomen, but you can't tighten the muscles without surgery. If extra fat is your main problem, a growing number of non-surgical body contouring procedures are available that can also target pockets of belly fat, such as Zeltiq CoolSculpting and Zerona. Abdominal etching, with or without liposuction, may be able to give you the sculpted six-pack abs you have always dreamed of. These are some of the alternatives you can discuss during your consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon.

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Tummy Tuck: Are Your Expectations Realistic?

It is important that you understand what a tummy tuck can and can't do for you and your life. The repair and tightening of your abdominal muscles, along with the removal of the excess skin, may greatly improve your body contour and appearance, but it won't change any other aspect of your life. If your stomach area has always made you self-conscious, a tummy tuck will help boost your self-esteem and allow you to feel more comfortable with yourself. Feeling better about yourself certainly affects how other people view and treat you, but cosmetic surgery is by no means a panacea for other problems in your life.

You can manage expectations by viewing tummy tuck before and after photos. This will help you understand what to expect and what not to expect from your tummy tuck.

Other factors to consider are tummy tuck cost, tummy tuck risks and tummy tuck recovery. Recovery can take up to three weeks, which may not be realistic given your work or home responsibilities. Make sure your surgeon tells you what your recovery will entail and what the procedure will cost before committing to a surgery date.

Begin your search for a local surgeon now.