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Many Unaware of Plastic Surgery Options After Weight Loss Procedures

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Most of the 220,000 people who undergo weight loss surgery every year are not aware of the follow-up procedures they could have to remove any loose skin they may have, according to a new study by plastic surgeons.

However, not all patients who undergo so-called bariatric weight reduction surgery need a cosmetic procedure after their dramatic weight loss, said one doctor who's an obesity expert.

Researchers from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons said that although 75 percent of bariatric patients don't know about body contouring, many might choose to have this plastic surgery if they were fully informed of their options.

"Bariatric surgery isn't just a commitment to weight loss. It often requires body contouring surgeries to help the patient's skin fit their new body," the study's lead author, Dr. Jason Spector, ASPS Member Surgeon, said in a society news release. "Many massive weight loss patients suffer large amounts of loose, sagging skin as a result of their rapid weight loss that, if not removed, can cause rashes, wounds, infection, and limit comfortable mobility. It is apparent that insufficient counseling at the time of bariatric surgery is obscuring viable body contouring options for these patients."

The study included 284 patients who had had weight loss surgery. The researchers found that only 25 percent had discussed body contouring procedures with their bariatric surgeon before or after surgery.

Although only 14 percent were referred to a plastic surgeon for consultation and just 11 percent had a body contouring procedure, nearly 40 percent of the patients said they might have chosen to have the plastic surgery if they knew more about it.

Lack of awareness about body contouring wasn't the only reason why the patients studied didn't undergo the procedure, the researchers noted. Nearly one-third said the plastic surgery, which is rarely covered by insurance, was too expensive.

"There needs to be a push to have body contouring after massive weight loss covered by insurance," said Spector. "This isn't just aesthetic surgery. It is necessary surgery that rehabilitates patients, alleviates discomfort, and improves overall quality of life."

Other experts caution that some bariatric surgery patients may do fine with non-surgical alternatives, however.

"It's probably reasonable to do some exercise and wait a bit after a big weight loss to see how your body responds and reshapes itself (especially if you are under 50) before jumping to plastic surgery," said Dr. Michael Potter, a professor of clinical family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine, who treats many patients with obesity-related diseases. "I have patients who have bounced back nicely from extreme weight loss without excessive sagging and have felt happy to forego the plastic surgery."

The study was slated for presentation on Saturday at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons' annual conference in Denver.

Studies presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about weight loss surgery.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCES: American Society of Plastic Surgeons, news release; Michael Potter, MD, UCSF School of Medicine professor of family and community medicine; Sept. 21, 2011

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