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Breast reduction surgery, also known as reduction mammoplasty, is a procedure that helps reduce the size of a woman’s breasts. A plastic surgeon will remove extra fat, tissue, and skin through cuts on the undersides of both breasts. Breast reduction is an outpatient procedure that generally doesn’t have many complications.
Women with large breasts often have painful physical symptoms due to the strain that the weight of their breasts places on the neck, shoulders, and back. Some women even suffer from constant headaches, poor posture, and herniated discs.
Additionally, some women feel self-conscious or have a negative body image because of their breast size. Breast reduction surgery can address both these physical and psychological challenges.
Before a breast reduction procedure, your doctor will perform a routine breast exam to determine if you’re a candidate for the surgery. You may also need a mammogram or other lab tests to ensure you’re in good health. You and your doctor will need to decide whether or not to use general anesthesia during the surgery, as some patients do fine with local anesthesia.
In the days before the surgery, your doctor will probably advise you to stop taking certain over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Arrange in advance for someone to give you a ride home and take care of you for a few days after surgery. Call in any prescription medications you may need to help manage pain after surgery.
On the day of your surgery, you’ll probably have to avoid food and water in the hours leading up to the procedure. Your doctor will provide specific instructions.
After administering anesthesia, the surgeon will make an incision starting at your areola (the pigmented area around the nipple) and continuing down to the underside of your breast. They’ll remove fatty tissue and skin to reduce the size of each breast. The surgeon is often able to leave the nipple in place, but, in some cases, they may need to reposition it.
After the surgery, your breasts will be wrapped in gauze-type bandaging. Drainage tubes may be attached to your breasts to help get rid of excess fluids from the initial swelling after surgery.
Your doctor will tell you when it’s safe to remove the bandages. Typically, you’ll wait up to a week before you’re able to wear a bra again. At that point, you’ll wear a special soft bra for several weeks.
While you may return home from the hospital on the same day as the surgery, you’ll need plenty of time for rest and recuperation.
Be careful to avoid any movement that would cause muscle strain for several weeks after surgery. Don't lift heavy groceries or anything over 5 pounds.
Your breasts will be sore and probably painful to the touch. With pain medication, you should be able to manage the healing process better. You may also have symptoms like numbness, itching, or general tiredness.
Based on how quickly you recover, your doctor should be able to tell you when you can return to normal activities like work, exercise, or driving.
While the risks of a breast reduction surgery tend to be minimal, some women may suffer from:
Results after surgery are positive for many women. They achieve both the health and cosmetic benefits of smaller breasts.
Be aware that you may have to buy new clothes to better fit your body, and it might take some time to mentally adjust to your new appearance.
Also, keep in mind that it can take months for the swelling to completely go away. If your breasts don’t immediately look smaller, don’t worry. Check in with your doctor to make sure you’re healing at the right pace.
In some cases, you might need follow-up surgery to correct any mistakes or enhance the appearance of your breasts.
Written by: Mara Tyler
Medically reviewed on: Feb 10, 2016: Mark R Laflamme, MD
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