Stephen McCulley, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeon. MBChb, FCS(SA)Plast, FRCS(plast)

What are the risks of surgery?

Cosmetic surgery is a serious operation, and although it’s extremely safe nowadays it isn’t risk free.  Before you undertake surgery you need to understand the possible risks.  Cosmetic surgery can significantly enhance a person’s life and happiness, but it’s a serious operation which should be trivialised or undertaken lightly.  We’ll go through some of the general risks of surgery here. 

During surgery:

Generally if you surgery is major and will take a longer time it will carry more risks than a smaller shorter operation, but all operations do come with the following risks.


Some bleeding will happen during surgery and this is completely normally but if an usual amount of bleeding takes place a blood transfusion may be necessary.


Problems with anaesthetic are very, very rare but if they do happen they tend to be serious.  These can be an adverse allergic reaction to the anaesthetic known as anaphylaxis shock which can be very serious but is extremely rare.  Nerve injury can also result in reaction to anaesthesia which can cause numbness or paralysis, but this again is rare.  You’re more likely to experience complications with anaesthetics if you have other illnesses, smoke or are overweight.  Your surgeon and anaesthetist should discuss all of this with your prior to your operation.

After surgery:

Blood clots

Blood clots, otherwise known as deep vein thrombosis can happen as a result of surgery either in the area of surgery or as a result of inactivity during recovery.  You might be given medication after your operation to thin the blood and prevent DVT. If you’ve suffered from DVT before you need to let your surgeon know.


Infections are unlikely but, since you’re skin has been opened by an incision, there is always a minimal chance of infection.  You might receive antibiotics before or after surgery to reduce the risk of infection if you are particularly at risk.


Like anything trying to heal the site of surgery is likely to swell during recovery as it heals.  This is nothing to worry about unless it stays swollen for a very long time or becomes extremely painful.

Your surgeon should give advice on the risks of surgery before you undertake it and be able to answer any queries you have regarding the process.  If you’re unsure of anything at all then ask a medical professional to put your mind at rest.

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