a woman in a bra top holding her hands out in front of her abdomen

Seroma is a collection of fluid that builds up under the surface of your skin. A seroma sometimes develops after surgical procedures and is a common complication associated with a tummy tuck.  

After a tummy tuck, your surgical team typically puts drainage tubes in place for a few days or hours. Sometimes the tubes do not adequately drain the fluid built up under the skin, and a seroma may form. 

If you do end up with a seroma after a tummy tuck, do not panic. The condition is very treatable, and most patients make a full recovery. Below, we’ll go over how to treat a seroma after a tummy tuck. 

How Do I Identify A Seroma? 

Seromas typically form within a few days of surgery, although a seroma may form up to a month after your tummy tuck. A seroma looks like a large lump or cyst and is sometimes described as a “balloon-like swelling.” You may feel liquid or movement underneath the skin. Sometimes, a seroma is tender to the touch, and some seromas calcify, resulting in a hard knot at the seroma site. 

A seroma may begin to drain on its own. You will notice clear, sometimes slightly bloody drainage coming from the incision. The seroma could become infected and develop into an abscess, spreading quickly and putting you risk for severe illness and sepsis. Signs of infection include fever or chills, blood pressure changes, confusion, and a rapid heart rate or rapid breathing. 

While long-term or serious complications due to a seroma are rare, you should always seek immediate medical attention if a seroma forms. A medical professional can help assess whether you are at risk for infection and provide preventative care. 

Seroma Treatment 

Minor seromas may not require medical treatment. While you should see a doctor to be certain, they may recommend a watch and wait approach. Your body can sometimes naturally reabsorb the fluid within a few weeks or months. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter painkillers to manage any discomfort during this time. As the seroma passes naturally, seek follow-up medical care if you notice signs of infection. 

Your doctor may need to drain the seroma via a large syringe for more severe cases. Your doctor will need to drain a seroma more than once in rare cases. However, this procedure increases your risk of infection and possibly an ensuing abscess. Therefore, doctors only opt to drain a seroma if the treatment site is free of infection and if the seroma causes pain, discomfort, or limited mobility. If you end up getting your seroma drained, follow all aftercare instructions very closely and seek immediate medical help if you notice symptoms like a high fever or shortness of breath. 

In very rare cases, a seroma may need to be removed surgically. Surgery is typically minor, but – as always – follow all of your doctor’s instructions closely before and after to avoid further complications. 

Seroma Prevention After A Tummy Tuck

You can never completely eliminate the risk of a seroma or any other complication from a tummy tuck. However, there are several steps you can take to reduce your likelihood of developing a seroma. 

Most importantly, work with a qualified plastic surgeon with experience performing tummy tucks. A good surgeon will take every precaution to ensure your safety before surgery by going over your medical history and doing a preliminary exam to ensure you’re healthy enough to undergo surgery. If a surgeon is rushing you through the consultation process, this is a red flag. 

Ask your doctor about compression garments after surgery, which can help reduce swelling and help your skin heal faster. While not every patient is a good candidate for compression garments, wear them exactly as directed if your doctor recommends them. 

It is important to know that, while seromas are not 100% preventable, they are very rare – especially when working with a qualified surgeon. The majority of seromas are mild and will likely reduce on their own. Although, you should always contact a doctor if a seroma forms. 

Seroma After A Tummy Tuck: The Bottom Line 

While a seroma may form within the weeks following a tummy tuck, the good news is that seromas are usually not serious. Complications like infection and an abscess are rare and can be prevented with prompt medical intervention. The best way to prevent a seroma is to work closely with a qualified surgeon and follow aftercare guidance. 

Considering a tummy tuck? Leif Rogers, MD, is an Ivy League-educated, board-certified plastic surgeon. If you’re interested in a tummy tuck, get in touch with his team to schedule a consultation. 

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