Why am I so Bloated after Plastic Surgery?

By Dr Nicholas Moncrieff

Have you just had a plastic surgery procedure and now feel so bloated even your most stretchy pants feel tight?

Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons Member and Specialist Plastic Surgeon based in Newcastle, Dr Nicholas Moncrieff helps explain this phenomenon.

This is very common amongst patients post breast and body surgery and the good news is that it is temporary! In most cases, it peaks around 2 days after surgery and then slowly subsides, although it can take months for all swelling to settle down.

What causes post-surgery swelling and bloating?

1. Disruption to the lymphatic system

Swelling occurs in the body as the lymphatics have been surgically disturbed. However, it is important to remember that swelling is a key part of your recovery and is essential for healing! The swollen areas actually contain white blood cells and proteins that are needed to heal the site of your surgery.

2. Your gastrointestinal tract slows down

Medications such as anaesthetic, pain relief, antibiotics all tend to have a “braking” effect on the gut. The often means that you will experience post-operative constipation, which of course can lead to discomfort and your abdomen to distend. Not what most patients hope for after plastic surgery, but remember it is temporary!

3. Intravenous fluids

During your operation, you will receive IV fluids to replace your body’s fluids and balance your sodium levels. The IV fluid can cause some bloating while your body regulates its fluid levels post-operatively.

4. You are stuck on the coach!

Your activity level plummets after surgery, for good reason as it allows you to recover and not compromise your results! But this decrease is mobility can lead to fluid retention. Without being able to participate in the physical activity you usually would, you may even experience a small weight gain. This is completely normal!

Once you have the all clear from your Plastic Surgeon to begin gentle movement and exercise, you will find that your weight returns to normal (or a little less if you factor in how much tissue has been removed in surgery).

How can you banish the bloat faster?

Time is your friend when it comes to swelling and bloating. Most patients find it settles down considerably by 3 months, while others find that swelling comes and goes for up to a year after surgery. Some ways you can help ease swelling, bloating and stomach discomfort are:

Gentle movement (i.e. walking) when you have the medical approval to do so – either from your surgeon or their nursing team

Drink more clear fluids, especially water

Consume lots of fibre-rich food to encourage bowel movements

Gentle stool softeners (such as Movicol ) can be utilised to help with post-surgery constipation

Cease stronger pain medication as soon as practical and replace with those that are gentler on the gut such as paracetamol (subject to advise from your surgeon)

It is also VITAL to keep wearing your surgical garment to help minimise swelling.

While it can be deflating to have swelling and bloating after surgery, please know it is normal and you will be able to recover faster if you follow the steps above.


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