The NHS guide to cosmetic procedures

Tummy tuck (abdominoplasty)

A tummy tuck, or 'abdominoplasty', is cosmetic surgery to improve the shape of the tummy area (abdomen).

It can involve removing fat and excess loose skin and tightening the abdominal muscles.

The aim is to remove excess tummy skin that can't be removed through exercise - for example, after losing a lot of weight or after pregnancy. But it’s not a quick fix for losing weight.

An abdominoplasty is regarded cosmetic surgery, so not normally available on the NHS.

If you're thinking of going ahead, make sure you're aware of the cost and the fact that it's major surgery, with risks to consider. Take time to reflect on your decision. It may help to read "Is cosmetic surgery right for me?".

You can read on to find out:

How much does it cost?

It costs about £4,500 to £6,000 to have an abdominoplasty in the UK, plus the cost of any consultations or follow-up care that may not be included in the price.

Where do I go?

If you're looking in England, check the Care Quality Commission (CQC) website for treatment centres that can perform a tummy tuck. All independent clinics and hospitals that provide cosmetic surgery in England must be registered with the CQC, which publishes inspection reports and performance ratings to help people choose care.

You should also research the surgeon who is going to carry out your surgery. All doctors must, as a minimum, be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). Check the register to see the doctor’s fitness to practise history. You may also want to find out:

  • how many operations they've performed where there have been complications
  • what sort of follow-up you should expect if things go wrong
  • their own patient satisfaction rates

Read more about choosing a cosmetic surgeon.

What does it involve?

There are two types of tummy tuck, and both are usually carried out under a general anaesthetic.

A partial tummy tuck involves:

  • making a large incision (cut) across the lower tummy
  • separating the skin from the abdominal wall below the tummy button
  • removing excess fat
  • cutting away excess skin
  • pulling together the remaining skin and stitching it in place

A full tummy tuck involves:

  • making a large incision across the lower tummy, from hip to hip, just above the pubic area
  • making a second incision to free the belly button from the tissue that surrounds it
  • separating the skin from the abdominal wall
  • realigning the abdominal muscles
  • removing excess fat and skin
  • cutting a new hole for the belly button, and stitching this back in place
  • pulling together the remaining skin and stitching it in place

The operation can take between two and five hours. Most people need to stay in hospital for a few nights.

A tummy tuck may be quite painful, although pain relief would be provided.

You would leave hospital with dressings and a pressure garment (corset) on your tummy, or tummy control pants. Someone would need to drive you home and stay with you for the following 24 hours.

Recovery

You would need to take about four to six weeks off work and exercise. You wouldn't be able to drive for a few weeks after the operation (your surgeon and insurance company would advise about this).

It takes about six weeks to fully recover, and it may be several weeks before you see the full effects of the tummy tuck.

You’d need to wear a special type of corset or tummy control pants to encourage your skin to heal properly and reduce any swelling.

Generally, you'd need to take it easy for a few weeks and keep your knees bent while in bed, to avoid putting strain on your stitches.

After a week or two: A wound check would be carried out

At six weeks: Your corset should be able to come off and you'd usually be able to return to most of your normal activities.

Side effects to expect

You would be left with a scar running across your lower tummy and, if you had a full abdominoplasty, a scar around your belly button.

It’s also common after a tummy tuck to:

  • find it difficult to stand up straight – it will feel like your tummy is being pulled (this will improve over time)
  • have pain and bruises
  • feel numbness in your tummy for a few months to years 
  • have a temporary fluid-filled swelling above the scar
  • have red, raised scars in the first six weeks – which eventually fade to white

What could go wrong

A tummy tuck can occasionally result in:

  • thick, obvious scars developing
  • bulges under the skin
  • 'dog ears' (extra skin) at the edges of the scar
  • wounds failing to heal
  • a collection of fluid in the area that was operated on
  • a collection of blood underneath the skin (haematoma)
  • numbness or pain in the tummy or down the leg
  • tummy cramps or pain
  • breathing problems

Any type of operation also carries a small risk of:

  • excessive bleeding
  • developing a blood clot in a vein
  • infection
  • an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic (very rare)

The surgeon should explain how likely these risks and complications are, and how they would be treated if they occurred.

Occasionally, people find the desired effect wasn’t achieved and feel they need another operation.

What to do if you have problems 

Cosmetic surgery can sometimes go wrong and the results may not be what you expected.

You should contact the clinic where the operation was carried out as soon as possible if you have severe pain or any unexpected symptoms.

If you have a tummy tuck and are not happy with the results, or you think the procedure wasn't carried out properly, you should take up the matter with the surgeon who treated you.

If you have concerns about your care, you should contact the CQC.

If necessary, you can make a complaint about a doctor to the General Medical Council (GMC).

For more information, read the Royal College of Surgeon's advice on What if things go wrong?

Who shouldn't have it?

A tummy tuck is not a procedure for someone who is overweight. If you're overweight, you can read our advice on how to lose weight safely and effectively.

If you're not overweight but would like to tone up a flabby tummy, you may be interested in our 10-minute home toning workout and 10-minute abs workout.

More information

BAAPS: abdominal reduction

BAPRAS: tummy tucks 

Royal College of Surgeons: cosmetic surgery FAQs 


Page last reviewed: 19/05/2016

Next review due: 19/05/2019

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