Understanding the Basics of Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgery is often seen as a catch-all term that centers on surgical solutions for altering one’s physical appearance. However, it’s important to know the different areas within plastic surgery, and how they apply to the purpose you may be pursuing, when considering such a procedure.

The difference between cosmetic and plastic surgery

Cosmetic surgery, which is often used interchangeably with plastic surgery, focuses on enhancing the aesthetics of one’s appearance. It can be performed on the head, neck, and all areas of the body. Common procedures include breast augmentation, nose reshaping, liposuction, facelifts, and tummy tucks. Because it is usually performed on a patient who doesn’t have any existing medical condition, it is considered to be an elective procedure and will not be covered by insurance.

Plastic surgery, on the other hand, has reconstructive objectives. It addresses birth defects and disfigurement caused by disorders, disease, and trauma. As a result, the cost of these procedures is usually covered by most insurance carriers.

Origins of plastic surgery

The term “plastic” comes from the Greek word “plastikos,” which means to mold or shape. The practice itself began during World War II when general surgeons had to develop innovative techniques for treating a wide range of war injuries suffered by soldiers. By the middle of the 20th century, plastic surgery was recognized as its own unique medical specialty.

Common reconstructive surgeries

The following procedures are among the most widely implemented today.

  • Tumor treatment
    The largest number of reconstructive surgeries performed by plastic surgeons today is for treating/removing cancerous and benign tumors. These procedures are aimed re-establishing normal appearance and function after the removal of the tumor. Tumor treatment can include a surgical biopsy (an exam of tumor tissue that is removed from the body), removal of the tumor, and reconstruction.

  • Breast reconstruction or reduction
    This type of procedure generally aims to reform a woman’s breast after a mastectomy or to reduce abnormally large breasts that are causing back problems and other health problems.

  • Facial surgeries
    Many procedures of this type help correct breathing problems associated with abnormal nasal anatomy, address deformities such as cleft lip or palate, or address problems due to facial trauma.

  • Wound/skin care
    Patients who have had severe burns, cuts, or scarring can find solutions in skin grafts and other dermatologic procedures.

  • Foot and hand surgery
    Individuals born with webbed or extra fingers and toes can have them addressed through routine plastic surgery. Carpal tunnel syndrome can also be treated through surgery when bracing, rest, and other forms of treatment don’t work.

What to ask your plastic surgeon

Whether you are seeking plastic surgery for cosmetic or reconstructive reasons, you need to have full confidence in the surgeon who will be performing your procedure. You will want to know as much as possible about a prospective surgeon’s experience, credentials, and training. The following are important basic questions to ask surgeons before making a decision.

  • Are you board certified in plastic surgery?
    The most widely respected certification in the plastic surgery field is from The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS). Certification from ABPS shows that a surgeon has in-depth training, comprehensive knowledge, and is committed to excellence in the practice of plastic surgery. While this may seem to be an uncomfortable question to ask a surgeon, he or she will understand that your peace of mind is the highest priority and that an honest answer is required.

  • How many procedures of this type have you performed?
    Clearly, no one wants to be among the first procedures that a surgeon will perform. Again, it is perfectly reasonable to ask a surgeon about his/her experience on a specific procedure. In studies, surgeons who have a high volume of procedures on a specific condition have proven to have lower complication rates, and shorter hospital stays for their patients, than surgeons with lower numbers of procedures.

  • What risks are involved with this procedure?
    While most plastic surgery procedures carry less risk than other types of surgical procedures, there is always at least some risk with any type of surgery. Infection, excessive loss of blood, adverse reaction to anesthesia, and other issues are some things that you will need to discuss with a prospective surgeon for your procedure.

    In addition, a reputable surgeon will be forthcoming about any post-operative complications he or she may have had with your type of surgery and if any have been serious. Again, he or she will understand your need for information and assurance that your safety and health are of utmost importance.

  • Can I see “Before” and “After” images of your patients who have had this procedure?
    This will give you a general idea of what the outcome of your procedure may be like. A surgeon may show you these pictures even before you ask to see them to reassure you that the procedure is safe and will effectively address your condition.

Dzifa S. Kpodzo

Dzifa S. Kpodzo

Specializes in Plastic Surgery

As a native of Ghana, West Africa, Dr. Kpodzo also grew up in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Dr. Kpodzo's research interests are in clinical outcomes, healthcare disparities and quality improvement. She has always been highly committed and involved in the community, but most of all she has an unwavering dedication to providing her patients with the highest quality and most compassionate care possible.

Learn more about Dr. Kpodzo.