Although many people connect ‘reconstructive surgery’ with breast cancer and mastectomy, it is a known fact that the term encompasses several other forms of surgery used to restore body form and function. Reconstructive surgeries can help take care of a variety of physical defects, including the reconstruction of the breasts (after a mastectomy), neck (after an injury or trauma), head (after injury or trauma), face (to take care of birth defects like cleft lip, drooping eyelids etc.) and any other part of the body that is affected by a disease or injury (or any other traumatic experience).
Reconstructive surgeries can differ greatly in their purpose and complexity. The specific technique chosen would depend on factors like the complexity of the problem, the area in the body where the surgery needs to be performed and personal preferences etc. Accordingly, a reconstructive surgery can be as simple as closing or dressing a wound, or as complex as grafting skin, expanding tissues or creating free flaps etc.
Different Types of Reconstructive Surgeries
Given below are some of the more common types of reconstructive surgeries that are opted for by individuals wishing to change a physical defect(s) in their body.
Breast Reconstruction Surgeries
The most common form of reconstructive surgery happens to be breast reconstruction which is usually opted for by women after they undergo a mastectomy of one or both breasts. Breast reconstruction is also sought after by women wishing to increase their bust size, improve breast shape or lift up sagging breasts.
In certain cases, breast reconstruction surgeries are recommended for women who wish to reduce the size of their breasts. Called breast reduction, these surgeries would involve reducing the size of very large breasts which would otherwise lead to issues like back pain. Breast reduction surgeries are also recommended for men who wish to remove excess fat from the area in order to get a flat chest.
Skin Reconstruction Surgeries
Skin reconstruction surgeries aim at improving the external appearance of skin that has been severely burnt or injured. The skin in the affected area is usually replaced with healthier skin from other parts of the body. The most common techniques used for skin reconstruction include skin grafting, chemical peel or laser resurfacing etc.
Hand and Feet Reconstruction Surgeries
Some people suffer from birth defects like the growth of extra fingers or toes, or the formation of webbed fingers and toes. These defects can be effectively corrected by reconstructive surgeries which involve separating the individual toes/ fingers or removing extra fingers/toes without causing too much damage to the surrounding tissues, nerves and skin.
In certain cases, reconstructive surgeries are opted for the removal of benign or malignant tumors on the hands/feet. Individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome can also opt for reconstructive surgeries to get relief from the condition and its symptoms.
Facial Reconstruction Surgeries
Facial defects or injuries can be effectively treated with the help of reconstructive surgeries like rhinoplasty (reshaping the nose), blepharoplasty (correcting the lower and upper eyelids), liposuction, forehead lifts and face lifts etc. Facial reconstruction surgeries are also recommended for birth defects like a cleft lip/palate or for conditions like sinuses (nasal blockages) that cause snoring. Facial reconstruction surgeries can also help offer relief from the affects of several chronic infections.
These surgeries are usually recommended in cases where certain parts of the body which are affected by a disease or injury would need to be replaced. Different than skin grafting surgeries (where only the skin is grafted) , flap surgeries usually involve the movement of tissue from the healthy donor site to the affected recipient site with the blood supply intact.
Flap surgeries are considered when the underlying tissue in the affected area is unable to support the growth of new skin cells or is unable to support a skin graft. They can also be recommended in cases where an entire region (like the jaw or breast) needs to be reconstructed.
Potential Risks of Reconstructive Surgeries
As with the case of any kind of surgery that involves an incision (one or more), reconstructive surgeries pose a series of risks which need to be carefully considered beforehand. Discussing the pros and cons of a particular reconstructive surgery (like a face lift) with the doctor can help the individual in question understand the process better and prepare himself/herself physically and mentally for the same.
In certain cases, the skin on the surgical site may take longer periods to heal or may fail to heal following which another surgery needs to be performed to correct the issue. Prolonged healing can cause extensive skin loss in the area in addition to the formation of thick scars. Infections can also delay the healing process while in rare cases; a minor irregularity can cause issues after the surgery. In these cases, a second surgery would be needed to correct the flaw.
Infections are very common in reconstructive surgeries and can set in if the wound fails to heal properly or in time. The use of foreign materials (like bone substitutes or silicone) can also lead to delayed healing and infections. Severe infection can cause the implant to malfunction. Another surgery would then be required to remove the implant and replace it with another one.
Procedures like skin grafting, chemical peels and dermabrasion etc. can lead to the formation of thick scars in and around the surgical site. These scars may take a long time to disappear or may become permanent with time. Improper removal of the graft, delayed healing and infections can also cause scars after a reconstructive surgery.
Procedures like liposuction work by sucking out fat stores present in a particular area of the body. While this would effectively remove the fat in that area, it would not take care of the skin which would become dimpled at the surgical site. In certain cases, the skin in these areas would start to sag and would need to be removed surgically as well via a second surgery.
There are high chances for excessive bleeding during complex or extensive surgical procedures. In these cases, the person would need to be given a blood transfusion during the procedure to compensate the loss of blood. Excessive bleeding can also cause a condition called hematoma where blood starts to collect in between the skin and the tissues beneath it. If this is the case, then another surgery would be needed to drain the blood. Hematomas can also cause lumpiness.
Liposuction and face lifts can cause temporary or permanent muscle paralysis in certain individuals. The muscles responsible for expressions would usually be the ones that are affected by the process. As a result, the individual in question would not be able to emote properly (in certain cases, he/she won’t be able to even smile properly) and would suffer from other side effects like droopy eye lids. Breast reconstruction surgeries in particular can cause temporary or permanent loss of sensation in the nipples.
Facial reconstruction surgeries can sometimes cause a condition called Blepharoplasty which is characterized by the individual’s inability to close his/her eyelids properly after a surgery. While the condition would improve with time, it can become permanent following which the individual would need to opt for eye lubricants or additional surgeries to correct the issue. Blepharoplasty can also damage the cornea and cause blindness in the long run if left untreated.
Other Common Risks
While these are the main risks of reconstructive surgeries, an individual may experience some other symptoms or side effects after a surgery. The other common risks of reconstruction surgeries in individuals include irregular heartbeats (as a result of chemical peels), permanent skin discoloration (again caused by chemical peels) and temporary/permanent nasal blockage (usually caused by rhinoplasty) etc. In almost all these cases , a secondary (or more) surgical procedure would be needed to correct the issue.