Panniculectomy Surgery: Everything You Need to Know
Surgery to remove excess skin from the lower abdomen (i.e., a panniculus) is called panniculectomy. This skin removal surgery is an elective one that is performed to relieve symptoms that occur from an overhanging apron of skin that can cause irritation and interfere with everyday activities. Such excess skin is usually the result of significant weight loss.
What Is a Panniculectomy?
A panniculectomy is the surgical removal of stretched out, overhanging skin and fat from the lower abdomen (i.e., the pannus or apron).
The surgeon makes a horizontal incision above the pubic area between the hips and possibly another incision from the breast bone to the pelvic bone to remove the fat and extra skin.1
The surgery may be performed as either an inpatient or outpatient procedure. You and your surgeon will schedule this elective surgery if you are determined to be a good candidate.
You may not be a good candidate for skin removal surgery if you also have another medical condition that is not well controlled, including diabetes, cardiac disease, and lung disease. Obesity may also raise your risk of complications.2
You may also not qualify for skin removal surgery if you currently smoke.
Panniculectomies are often performed on adults and, in some cases, adolescents following bariatric surgery weight loss.3 You should generally be at a stable weight for six months before undergoing a panniculectomy.
If you’re planning on losing a substantial amount of weight, your doctor will likely suggest postponing the surgery.4
The risks for a panniculectomy include:1
Poor wound healing
Risks of Having Any Surgery
Purpose of a Panniculectomy
Excess skin can be caused by losing a significant amount of weight through gastric bypass surgery or lifestyle changes. It may also be caused by getting older, prior surgery, pregnancy, or heredity.4
Your doctor may recommend skin removal surgery if you have excess skin and fat on the lower abdomen that hangs over the thighs, particularly if it causes sores and rashes and interferes with daily activities like walking or personal hygiene.2 A panniculectomy can help prevent recurring skin irritations and infections underneath the fold of skin.4
Panniculectomy may be referred to as a form of body contouring as it does result in a slimmer abdominal area. But skin removal surgery is only intended to remove the extra skin and fat and is not considered a cosmetic surgery.5
If your end goal is truly only appearance-related, you might consider opting for an abdominoplasty instead. This cosmetic surgery, better known as a tummy tuck, tightens the abdominal muscles in addition to removing fat.
Your doctor will help you determine if a panniculectomy is medically necessary and safe for you. They may also order lab testing before deciding whether to schedule surgery.
Your panniculectomy may be covered by insurance if your condition causes medical issues, such as rashes or ulcers that haven’t responded to treatment, or if it interferes with daily activities and can be corrected with surgery.6 If your panniculectomy isn’t medically necessary, you’ll likely pay for it out of pocket.
Check with your insurance provider, if applicable, ahead of time to find out what will and will not be covered.
How to Prepare
Before the skin removal surgery, you’ll schedule an appointment with the surgeon. This can give you a chance to ask any questions about the surgery, including the risks and typical results. In addition, you can ask about their medical background, including expertise and training in panniculectomy surgery.
You should also make arrangements for someone to bring you home after the procedure and for someone to stay with you for at least the first night after the procedure while you’re recovering.
Your panniculectomy will likely be performed in a hospital or licensed ambulatory surgery setting.
What to Wear
Wear or bring loose-fitting clothing that you can easily change. Plan to change into a hospital gown for the procedure.
Food and Drink
Follow your surgeon’s instructions about when to stop eating and drinking before the surgery.1
Several days before the skin removal surgery, your doctor may ask you to stop taking aspirin, Advil (ibuprofen), Coumadin (warfarin), and any other medications that could cause problems with bleeding.1 Ask your doctor if you should continue taking any medications on the day of the surgery.
To avoid complications, let your doctor know before the surgery if you’re taking any medications, including prescriptions or any over-the-counter drugs, herbs, and vitamins.
What to Bring
Make sure you remember any paperwork, your health insurance card, and a change of clothes if you want a separate outfit to wear home or if you’re spending the night. Remember to make arrangements for someone to drive you home after the surgery.
Pre-Op Lifestyle Changes
Surgeons often recommend quitting smoking at least three to six weeks before skin removal surgery.7 Smoking reduces blood flow and oxygen, which can cause tissue death, delayed wound healing, blood clots, and life-threatening complications such as strokes and blood clots. To avoid complications, ask your surgeon about your risk before scheduling surgery.
What to Expect on the Day of Surgery
Before the panniculectomy, a nurse will check your vitals and ask about your medical history. You’ll receive general anesthesia so that you are asleep and unable to feel any pain.1
During the Surgery
An incision will be made that runs horizontally in the area between your belly button and the pubic area. Excess skin and fat will be cut out with a scalpel or other surgical instruments through the horizontal incision.8 In some cases, the surgeon will also make an incision that runs vertically if you have excess skin and tissue in the transverse dimension.
The remaining upper abdominal skin is then pulled down and the incision is closed with sutures.4 Drains, which are thin tubes, may be temporarily inserted under the skin to prevent the accumulation of fluids.1
The procedure itself usually takes between three to five hours to complete depending on how much skin and fat are removed. Talk with your doctor before the skin removal surgery to confirm the techniques being used.
After the Surgery
You’ll be monitored in the recovery area after the panniculectomy. When you recover from anesthesia, you may be asked to get up and walk a few steps. Depending on the extent of your surgery, you may be able to go home that day when you’re medically stable, or you may have to stay at the hospital for up to two days.1
Your incision will be covered with gauze dressing or bandages. After a day or two, your doctor may have you wear an elastic support or compression garment to help support the abdomen as it heals.4
Patients will experience pain and swelling for a few days after the procedure. Your doctor will give you pain medication to help manage your discomfort.
If you have drains, your doctor will give you instructions for care, including how to record the amount of fluid in the drains and how to empty them.
Avoid strenuous activity for four to six weeks after the procedure. You will probably be able to return to work within about four weeks.
Your surgeon will let you know when to come in for a follow-up appointment. Removal of drainage tubes may be done at this time.
You’ll likely experience pain, swelling, and bruising for days after the surgery. You may have some numbness and feel tired during that time as well.
To help take some pressure off the abdomen, try keeping your legs and hips bent while resting.
Your doctor may recommend waiting to shower until 48 hours after the surgery.
It may take up to three months for the swelling to go down and for the wounds to completely heal.1
If you experience complications such as shortness of breath, chest pains, change in heart rate, or increased pain or swelling, contact your doctor immediately.4
Coping With Recovery
Skin removal surgery can help you feel more confident in your appearance, but it may take some time. Patients have significant scarring for more than a year after the surgery. It can take up to two years for scars to fade and to see the intended results.1
Studies show those who have skin removal surgeries usually have an adjustment process but tend to be happy with results. One study found that patients were self-conscious about their scars and body image for the first year after body contouring surgery. However, those same patients reported improved body image after the first year and less distress about their scarring.9
In another study, patients who had body contouring surgeries were surveyed about their body shape and their ideal body shape. The patients’ perception of their own appearance improved significantly with surgery even if they identified a thinner shape as “ideal.” The results indicated they felt encouraged about their appearance and their ability to reach their goals.10