With the holidays quickly approaching, we have had many patients in our Nashville Plastic Surgery practice ask about traveling after surgery. With updated techniques and less invasive surgical options, cosmetic surgery isn’t keeping patients as “grounded” these days as it used to. However, there are some things to take into account when planning a trip after surgery.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF FLYING AFTER SURGERY?
The main concern with flying after surgery is a risk of DVT ( a deep vein thrombosis – otherwise known as a blood clot in your legs). If the clot breaks off, it can travel to your lungs and there, it is known as a pulmonary embolism (PE). If the PE is large enough, this can lead to death. Surgery is a risk factor for a DVT, as are age, weight, length and type of surgery, malignancy, other medical co-morbidities and many other factors. The risk is highest between days 5 and 14 after Nashville Plastic Surgery.
Risk of infection is always a concern with any surgery. By exposing yourself to unfamiliar environments, like the tropics or the mountains, your immune system may have to fight off other contaminants it might not have to in your home environment. Think of Montezuma’s revenge that affects so many Americans when traveling to Mexico. The locals in those areas have no trouble eating local produce because their bodies and immune systems have been sensitized to the area. Airports and tourist destinations also pose additional threats to your immune system just from the sheer number of people who travel there from different areas of the world.
Another risk of traveling after surgery involves normal wound healing. Dr. Burgdorf recommends no heavy lifting for up to six weeks after your Plastic Surgery. That usually equates to nothing heavier than a full gallon of milk. So, lugging around heavy suitcases or struggling to put up your bag into an overhead compartment violates this recommendation. This heavy lifting may put unnecessary tension on your wound and may lead to wound breakdown.
That leads us to our next concern when dealing with traveling after surgery: what happens if an emergency arises? While we never plan for this to occur, the reality is that surgery comes with risks of complications. If any complications arise, Dr. Burgdorf wants to ensure you can be seen in a timely fashion to address these issues. For most cosmetic surgeries performed in our Nashville Plastic Surgery operating rooms, complications, if they happen, will likely occur within the first 2-3 weeks. This is the time frame when healing is most critical. It is recommended that you stay nearby during that early healing phase. Dr. Burgdorf recommends that his international patients plan to stay 4-6 weeks after surgery to ensure appropriate follow up care, especially if an emergency arises.
Close follow up during the time immediately following your surgery is crucial for success. Dr. Burgdorf has a standard protocol of post-operative instructions and activities for each procedure he performs. For example, for his Breast Augmentation Nashville patients, Dr. Burgdorf will recommend exercises specific to the type of implants you have chosen. He will also tailor these instructions based on how a patient is healing. Staying nearby during the early phases of healing ensures that you are able to receive the best care possible.
Other risks of traveling after surgery involve issues specific to each case or type of proecedure. For example, Face Lift Nashvillesurgery has a higher risk of a concerning hematoma than does Breast lift surgery. This has to do with the smaller space that can accommodate a pool of blood in the face than the breasts. If the blood pools here, it can lead to dramatic problems for your face. Dr. Burgdorf will be sure to outline these risks specific to your case when discussing your operative plans and travel schedule.
MORE ON DVT AFTER PLASTIC SURGERY
As stated before, length of surgery is not the only risk factor for a DVT. Your specific medical history will largely determine the risk of developing a clot after surgery. Surgeons use a point system called the Caprini Scale to assess the risk of patients for thrombosis. The scale assigns a certain amount of points for each risk factor. For example, a person with a history of DVT will receive 3 points, and a person between the ages of 41-60 (no matter the length of surgery) will receive 1 point. The scale is comprised of past medical conditions, age ranges, mobility of the patient, family history, and other issues. To see the full Caprini Scale, and see if you have any risk factors associated with thrombosis, click here.
The type of surgery you have will impact your risk of a blood clot. Patients having a Breast Augmentation (surgery lasts about 1 hour) have a lower risk of DVT than do patients having a Nashville Facelift with Eyelid Surgery and Fat Transfer (surgery can last up to 6 hours). Of all the Nashville plastic surgery procedures Dr. Burgdorf offers, abdominoplasty holds the greatest risk for DVT, just under 1%. When tightening the abdominal skin, the pelvic veins can be compressed.
Some of the best ways to prevent a DVT are frequent ambulation (moving around) and wearing compression stockings. Sequential compression devices (SCDs) are often used during surgery as prevention, as well. Many times, these are also worn after surgery in non-ambulatory patients. In high risk patients, the use of anticoagulation medication in the post-operative setting is recommended. This is typically a shot that is self-administered for several days after surgery. Very aggressive measures are taken in the operating room to minimize this complication, but strict adherence to post-operatrive instructions are paramount to avoiding this complication.
WHAT STEPS CAN I TAKE TO MAKE MY TRAVEL SAFE AFTER SURGERY?
Having surgery does not mean you are unable to travel for long periods of time after surgery. Always provide a full disclosure of travel plans during your consultation or pre-operative visit. This includes your destination, length of travel, and timeframe after surgery in which you plan to travel.
As we operate on many patients from out of town, I caution all my patients flying after surgery to wait until at least three weeks from the date of surgery. I also strongly encourage them to get up and walk around every hour while on the plane and frequently perform calf pumping exercises (like they are driving with their foot on and off the gas pedal). These steps help to keep the blood flowing and reduce the risk for a clot to form.
A strict adherence to post-operative instructions is a must, as are keeping your regularly scheduled follow-up appointments. Keep your wound covered with the recommended dressings and don’t unnecessarily expose yourself to unfamiliar environments. Always notify your surgeon if a problem arises or a concern develops. Be thoughtful with your activity and your post-operative care and enjoy your travels. And remember, it is ALWAYS acceptable to bring your surgeon back a souvenir from your trip!