This has prompted a multidisciplinary research team at Flinders University to look more closely at the drivers and consequences of this popular procedure.
They’re looking to interview women about their desire for abdominoplasty and the extent to which the surgery influences their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Understanding the links between abdominoplasty surgery and mental health has never before been explored in sufficient depth yet could be a key factor in healthcare policy, service delivery and post-operative care, says Kristen Foley, who is undertaking the data collection during the project.
“An important aim of our study is to find out whether psychosocial care for women before and after abdominoplasty surgery benefits their wellbeing and recovery, and if so, how this can be routinely incorporated into the care administered by plastic surgeons nationally,” Ms Foley says.
“To achieve this aim, the research team is evaluating the success of a new care model that gives women who are on the abdominoplasty waitlist the opportunity to speak at length with a practicing psychiatrist to explore their reasons and hopes for surgery.”
Plastic surgeon Dr Nicola Dean, a chief investigator on the Flinders study, says there is a proportion of postpartum women who experience genuine physical problems as a result of having a baby and could benefit from abdominoplasty.
“Many of my patients who are on the waitlist for this surgery disclose to me during their initial consultation that their decision to seek abdominoplasty is linked to significant emotional, psychological and relationship distress,” says Dr Dean.
“Currently there is no information on the complex motivations behind abdominoplasty and no national guidelines on the best way to address the emotional needs of women who seek to have this procedure,” Dr Dean says.
“The outcomes of our study may have implications for the future of plastic surgery practice and support the surgery to be viewed in its larger social and psychological context, something that is long overdue.”
An abdominoplasty is a surgical procedure where muscles of the abdomen are stitched back together and excess skin is removed. It is sometimes called a ‘tummy tuck’.
Flinders Professor Paul Ward, who also is supervising the research, says sociological theory suggests that “many women do not have ‘tummy tucks’ to be beautiful or look like a celebrity, but rather for more complex reasons that we do not fully understand”.
Currently anyone can seek to have abdominoplasty surgery in Australia, regardless of pre-existing psychological issues.
“If vulnerable individuals with poor wellbeing do not receive the support they need, or if their underlying emotional concerns are not recognised and managed appropriately by their surgeon, their long-term health can be jeopardised,” says Ms Foley.
“Knowingly proceeding with surgery among patients who are not well-equipped to deal with it also raises ethical issues.”
The research project, entitled “Experiences of women who have plastic surgery at Flinders Medical Centre” is led by Head of Public Health at Flinders University Professor Paul Ward, Adelaide surgeon Dr Nicola Dean, occupational therapist Kristen Foley and psychiatrist Dr Randall Long, an independent specialist.
More information about the study is available from Kristen Foley on (08) 7221 8491 or via Kristen.Foley@flinders.edu.au.
The project forms part of a larger body of research being undertaken by the team that is focused on defining the ill-defined practice of cosmetic surgery generally, with a view to improving healthcare policy, standards and outcomes.
See: Dean NR, Foley K, Ward P. ‘Defining cosmetic surgery’, Australasian Journal of Plastic Surgery. 2018; 1(1): 115-125.Jump to next article