Risks of Cosmetic Surgery and Potential Complications

All plastic surgery has risks. Part of the success is understanding the risks of Cosmetic Surgery and knowing what you can do to minimize or prevent them.

Plastic surgery is invasive, meaning your skin will be incised surgically, and your tissue will either be readjusted or removed. There are many risks and it is important to discuss the specific risks pertaining to your surgery with your surgeon. 

Some complications and surgery risks occur randomly despite having a top plastic surgeon, quality hospital, the best cosmetic surgery, and top post-op wound care.

Dr Patrick Briggs will cover your personal risks and potential complications during your consultation. All information on this page is general in nature – for further advice see a medical professional.

General Risks of Cosmetic Surgery

General Anesthesia Risks

Some patients can have a reaction to anesthesia. Prior to surgery, you will be provided with the details of your anesthetist. This will allow you to discuss any specific concerns you may have. If you have had any allergic reactions in the past please tell your surgeon and anesthetist.

General Anesthesia risks, include:

  • Adverse Reactions to Anesthesia
    • Some individuals may have allergic reactions or adverse responses to the anesthesia medications used, which can include;
      • Respiratory distress
      • Changes in blood pressure
      • Or, cardiac abnormalities.
  • Breathing Difficulties
    • General anesthesia can temporarily suppress the respiratory system, leading to breathing difficulties or, in rare cases, respiratory failure.
    • This risk is higher in individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
  • Nausea and Vomiting
    • It is common to experience nausea and vomiting after general anesthesia.
    • Medications can be administered to help manage these symptoms.
  • Aspiration
    • In rare cases, gastric contents can enter the lungs during the surgery, leading to aspiration pneumonia.
    • Measures are taken to minimize this risk, such as fasting before surgery.
  • Cardiac Complications
    • General anesthesia can impact the cardiovascular system, potentially causing changes in heart rate, blood pressure, or heart rhythm.
    • Individuals with pre-existing heart conditions may be at higher risk.
  • Allergic Reactions
    • Although uncommon, individuals can have allergic reactions to the medications or substances used during anesthesia.
    • This can range from mild reactions, such as skin rashes, to severe reactions that require immediate medical attention.
  • Postoperative Cognitive Dysfunction (POCD)
    • Some individuals may experience temporary cognitive changes, including confusion, memory loss, or difficulty concentrating, after general anesthesia.
    • The exact cause of Postoperative Cognitive Dysfunction (POCD) is not fully understood, and the risk is higher in older adults.
  • Medication Side Effects
    • The medications used during general anesthesia can have side effects such as drowsiness, headache, or muscle aches.
    • These effects are typically temporary and resolve as the medications wear off.

The Potential Complications associated with general anaesthesia are relatively low, and anaesthesia providers take multiple precautions to ensure patient well-being. However, risks do exist. Anaesthetists thoroughly evaluate each individual’s medical history and tailor the anaesthesia plan accordingly.

Bleeding (Hematoma)

Bleeding, or hematoma, is a potential risk associated with plastic surgery. Although it is not common, it can occur after surgical procedures. Some factors that contribute to the risk of bleeding include:

  • Surgical Technique
    • The surgical technique used can influence the risk of bleeding.
    • Surgeons take precautions to minimize bleeding during the procedure, such as using cautery or sutures to control blood vessels.
  • Individual Factors
    • Certain individuals may be more prone to bleeding due to their unique physiology.
    • Factors such as age, overall health, and certain medical conditions like bleeding disorders can increase the risk.
  • Medications
    • Certain medications, such as blood thinners or anti-inflammatory drugs, can increase the risk of bleeding.
    • It is essential to inform your surgeon about any medications you are taking to ensure proper management.
  • Trauma or Excessive Activity
    • Physical trauma or engaging in strenuous activities too soon after surgery can disrupt healing and lead to bleeding.
    • It is crucial to follow post-operative instructions regarding activity restrictions to minimize this risk.
  • Infection
    • In rare cases, infection can contribute to bleeding.
    • Proper surgical techniques and post-operative wound care help reduce the risk of infection.
  • Seroma Formation
    • A seroma is a collection of fluid that can accumulate in the surgical area, causing swelling and potentially increasing the risk of bleeding.
    • Techniques such as the placement of drains or compression garments can help minimize the occurrence of seromas.

It is important to note that bleeding risks can vary depending on the specific procedure being performed. It is vital to follow post-operative instructions, including avoiding activities that may increase the risk of bleeding and promptly notifying your surgeon if you experience any excessive bleeding or swelling.

Fluid Build-Up (Seroma)

Fluid build-up, known as seroma, is another potential risk associated with plastic surgery. Seromas can occur when fluid accumulates in the surgical area, leading to swelling and discomfort. Below are some factors that contribute to the risk of seroma formation:

  • Surgical Technique
    • The surgical technique employed can influence the risk of seroma development.
    • Techniques that involve creating larger surgical pockets or disrupting lymphatic vessels may increase the chances of fluid accumulation.
  • Extent of Surgery
    • The extent and complexity of the surgical procedure can impact the risk of seroma formation.
    • Surgeries that involve extensive tissue dissection or removal, such as body contouring or breast surgeries, may have a higher risk.
  • Drainage
    • The use of drains during surgery helps to remove excess fluid and reduce the risk of seroma formation.
    • Proper placement and management of drains are essential to minimize fluid build-up.
  • Post-operative Care
    • Following post-operative care instructions is crucial in preventing seroma formation.
    • Activities that increase fluid accumulation, such as excessive movement or exertion, should be avoided.
    • Wearing compression garments as advised by the surgeon can also help reduce the risk.
  • Individual Factors
    • Individual factors such as age, overall health, and underlying medical conditions can influence the risk of seroma formation.
    • Certain medical conditions, such as lymphatic disorders or previous history of seromas, may also increase the likelihood.
  • Infection
    • In some cases, seromas can be associated with infection.
    • Proper wound care and adherence to hygiene practices help reduce the risk of infection and subsequent fluid accumulation.

It is important to note that the risk of seroma can vary depending on the specific surgical procedure. If a seroma does develop, it can often be managed through drainage or aspiration under medical supervision. Promptly informing your surgeon about any unusual swelling or discomfort is essential for early detection and appropriate management of seromas.


There is a risk of wound infection and wound breakdown. Should an infection develop following surgery, your surgeon will prescribe antibiotics as appropriate and monitor your progress closely. While steps are taken to minimize the risk, it can still occur. Factors that contribute to the risk of infection, include:

  • Surgical Site
    • The location and extent of the surgical site can impact the risk of infection.
    • Areas with a higher bacterial load, such as the mouth, nose, or genital area, may have an increased risk.
  • Sterile Technique
    • The use of sterile instruments, equipment, and a sterile surgical environment is crucial to reduce the risk of infection.
    • Therefore, adherence to strict infection control protocols by the surgical team is important.
  • Pre-existing Infections
    • If a patient has a pre-existing infection, such as a respiratory or urinary tract infection, there is a higher risk of complications, including surgical site infection.
    • Proper evaluation and management of existing infections before surgery are important.
  • Patient Health
    • The overall health of the patient plays a role in infection risk.
    • Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as diabetes or autoimmune disorders, can increase the susceptibility to infections.
    • Smoking and obesity can also impair the body’s ability to fight off infections.
  • Post-operative Care
    • Following post-operative care instructions is crucial in preventing infections.
    • Proper wound care, including cleaning and dressing changes, should be followed.
    • Any signs of infection, such as increased pain, redness, swelling, or drainage from the incision site, should be promptly reported to the surgeon.
  • Hygiene
    • Maintaining good personal hygiene, both before and after surgery, helps reduce the risk of infection.
    • Both proper handwashing and cleanliness are important for preventing the introduction of bacteria into the surgical site.

Surgeons may prescribe prophylactic antibiotics before surgery to further minimize the risk. Promptly reporting any signs of infection to the surgeon allows for early intervention and treatment. With proper precautions and diligent care, the risk of infection can be minimized in plastic surgery procedures.

Delayed Wound Healing

While most surgical incisions heal without complications, some factors can contribute to delayed wound healing, including:

  • Poor Blood Supply
    • Adequate blood supply is crucial for wound healing.
    • Conditions like diabetes, smoking, vascular diseases, and certain medications can impair blood flow to the surgical site, leading to delayed healing.
  • Infection
    • Infections can hinder the normal healing process and delay wound closure.
    • Prompt identification and treatment of any signs of infection, such as increased pain, redness, swelling, or discharge from the incision site, are important.
  • Chronic Medical Conditions
    • Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, autoimmune disorders, or immunodeficiency diseases, can impair the body’s natural healing process and increase the risk of delayed wound healing.
  • Poor Nutrition
    • Proper nutrition is essential for wound healing.
    • Inadequate intake of essential nutrients like protein, vitamins (particularly vitamin C and vitamin A), and minerals can impair the body’s ability to repair tissues and delay wound healing.
  • Tension on Wound
    • Excessive tension or pressure on the wound can impede healing.
    • It is important to follow post-operative instructions regarding activity restrictions, avoiding strenuous activities, and proper wound care to minimize tension on the incision site.
  • Medications
    • Certain medications, such as corticosteroids or immunosuppressants, can delay wound healing.
    • It is important to inform the surgeon about any medications being taken to assess their potential impact on wound healing.
  • Size and Complexity of the Wound
    • Large or complex surgical wounds may take longer to heal compared to smaller, simpler incisions.
    • The surgeon will assess the nature of the procedure and provide appropriate post-operative care instructions.

It is important for patients to follow the surgeon’s post-operative care instructions diligently, including proper wound care, maintaining good nutrition, and avoiding factors that can hinder healing. Regular follow-up appointments with the surgeon allow for close monitoring of the healing process. If any concerns arise, it is crucial to promptly communicate with the surgeon for evaluation and appropriate management.

Your surgeon and nurse coordinator will manage the healing process. They will be able to take the necessary steps if delayed wound healing occurs.

Scarring or hypertrophic scars

Scarring is a natural part of the healing process after plastic surgery. While most scars fade and become less noticeable over time, there is a risk of developing hypertrophic scars, which are thick, raised, and red in appearance.

Some factors that can contribute to the risk of scarring or hypertrophic scars after plastic surgery, include:

  • Individual Healing Response
    • Each person’s body responds differently to the healing process, including scar formation.
    • Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to developing hypertrophic scars.
  • Surgical Technique
    • The surgical technique used by the plastic surgeon plays a role in scar formation.
    • Skilled surgeons take care in minimizing tension on the incision site, using precise suturing techniques, and placing incisions in discreet locations to optimize healing and minimize scarring.
  • Wound Care
    • Proper wound care during the recovery period is crucial to minimize the risk of excessive scarring.
    • Following the surgeon’s instructions regarding keeping the incision clean, using prescribed ointments or dressings, and avoiding activities that can strain or disrupt the wound are important.
  • Infection
    • Infection at the surgical site can increase the risk of scar formation.
    • It is important to follow proper hygiene practices, take prescribed antibiotics if necessary, and promptly report any signs of infection to the surgeon.
  • Sun Exposure
    • Exposing healing incisions to direct sunlight can lead to increased pigmentation and worsen the appearance of scars.
    • It is important to protect the incision sites from sun exposure by using sunscreen and covering them with clothing or bandages.
  • Smoking
    • Smoking can impair the healing process and increase the risk of poor scar formation.
    • Nicotine and other substances in tobacco can reduce blood flow to the skin, hindering proper healing. It is advisable to quit smoking or refrain from smoking during the recovery period.
  • Scar Care
    • Proper scar care techniques, such as massaging the scar, using silicone-based products or scar gels, and following scar management protocols recommended by the surgeon, can help optimize the healing process and reduce the visibility of scars.

It is important to have realistic expectations regarding scarring after plastic surgery. While the surgeon strives to minimize scarring, individual factors and the nature of the procedure can influence the outcome. Regular follow-up appointments with the surgeon allow for close monitoring of the healing process and appropriate interventions if necessary.

All surgery leaves a scar, and plastic surgery is no different. To minimize scarring for some procedures but not all, you may be recommended for Fraxel Laser scar treatments following surgery.

Serious, Life Threatening Risks of Cosmetic Surgery

Deep Vein Thrombosis or Deep Vein Embolism

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition. It can occur when a blood clot occurs in a vein located deep inside the body, typically in the thigh or lower leg. It is important to inform your surgeon right away if you suspect you are experiencing symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis so appropriate medications and therapies can be prescribed immediately.

Some factors that contribute to the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or Deep Vein Embolism (DVE) after plastic surgery, include:

  • Prolonged Immobility
    • Procedures that require extended periods of immobility, such as lengthy surgeries or recovery periods, can increase the risk of blood clot formation.
    • Immobility slows down blood circulation, allowing blood to pool and potentially form clots in the deep veins of the legs or pelvis.
  • Surgical Trauma
    • Surgical procedures can cause trauma to blood vessels, increasing the risk of clot formation.
    • Tissue manipulation, incisions, and surgical dissection can disrupt the normal blood flow and trigger a clotting response.
  • Body Changes
    • Certain plastic surgery procedures, such as body contouring surgeries or fat transfer procedures, can lead to changes in body composition.
    • These changes, including alterations in fat distribution, can affect blood flow patterns and potentially increase the risk of clot formation.
  • Personal Risk Factors
    • Certain individuals may have a higher predisposition to developing blood clots due to personal risk factors. These include;
      • A history of blood clotting disorders
      • Previous Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or Deep Vein Embolism (DVE) events
      • Family history of clotting disorders
      • Obesity
      • Smoking
      • Advanced age
      • Certain medical conditions like cancer or heart disease.

Minimizing the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or Deep Vein Embolism (DVE) after plastic surgery

Plastic surgeons and healthcare providers take several preventive measures, such as:

  • Encouraging early mobilization and movement after surgery to promote blood circulation and prevent blood clots from forming.
  • Prescribing compression stockings or pneumatic compression devices to improve blood flow and reduce the risk of clots.
  • Administering blood thinning medications, such as anticoagulants or low molecular weight heparin, to prevent clot formation.
  • Educating patients about the signs and symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or Deep Vein Embolism (DVE), such as leg pain, swelling, redness, warmth, or shortness of breath, and advising them to seek immediate medical attention if these symptoms occur.

It’s important for patients to disclose their medical history, including any previous clotting events or risk factors, to their plastic surgeon. This information allows the surgeon to assess the individual’s risk profile and take appropriate measures to minimize the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or Deep Vein Embolism (DVE) during and after surgery.

A Stroke or Death

While rare, a stroke or death are potential risks associated with plastic surgery. These risks can occur during or after the procedure and can be attributed to various factors. Surgical trauma, anesthesia complications, blood clot formation, and underlying medical conditions can increase the risk of stroke or death. It is crucial for patients to undergo a comprehensive medical evaluation prior to surgery to assess their overall health and identify any potential risk factors. Additionally, skilled surgeons and anesthesiologists follow strict safety protocols to minimize these risks, including monitoring vital signs, using appropriate anesthesia techniques, and providing post-operative care. Patient safety and well-being are of utmost importance during plastic surgery procedures.

Risks of Cosmetic Surgery – Breast Implant Surgery

Breast procedures come with their own particular complications. Common side effects of breast surgery include discomfort, skin sensation changes, bruising and swelling. Most resolve over a period of weeks but skin sensation changes can last longer. More serious risks can include:

  • Nipple sensitivity. You may lose nipple sensation permanently; however, this is very rare. Most patients lose nipple sensation temporarily and as nerve endings start to re-connect underneath the skin, sensations will return to the area
  • Nipple Loss/Necrosis is a rare complication that occurs often in smokers. It may affect all or part of the nipple.
  • The ability to breastfeed may be affected
  • Allergies to tape, suture materials and glues, blood products, topical preparations or injected agents
  • Poor scarring, including keloid scarring (more common in patients with higher skin pigmentation/darker skin)
  • Breast implant issues if you have a breast lift (mastopexy) with an augmentation using breast implants (skin wrinkling, implant rupture)
  • Capsular contracture if having a combined breast lift (mastopexy) with augmentation
  • Breast Asymmetry (uneven breasts or nipples)
  • There is also a risk of BII (Breast Implant Illness) and BIA-ALCL (Breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma)

Useful Resources on Reducing Your Surgery Risks

It is important to do your research in order to understand the risks associated with your chosen surgery. Surgical risks will also be covered in detail in your consultation with Dr Patrick Briggs and again before you proceed with surgery. Further, risks and complications are also on your informed consent forms and ASPS (Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons) Surgery Documentation.

You will be given a detailed list of potential plastic surgery risks or potential complications, including risks, specific to certain procedures. It is also important to read all materials provided to you regarding your procedure. Further, ensure you follow your surgeon’s advice carefully to help reduce risks where possible.

Finally, understand that not everything in surgery may go as planned but choosing a qualified, experienced plastic surgeon and having your surgery in an accredited private hospital will place you in good hands should something go awry.

For more information contact the clinic on (03) 8849 1400

Patient Information from Dr Patrick Briggs


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Dr Patrick Briggs Melbourne

Dr Patrick Briggs FRACS (Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons) is a Specialist Plastic and Cosmetic Surgeon.

Both he and his team are dedicated to patient care and are committed to treating each and every patient with respect and privacy.

Furthermore, he is experienced in BreastBody and Face Surgery having performed over 4500 Surgeries in private practice.

How can we help?

Dr Briggs’ Patient Coordinators take pleasure in assisting you with any questions when considering a plastic surgery procedure. Please call the Hawthorn East clinic in Melbourne between 9 AM – 5 PM on Weekdays.

Phone (03) 8849 1400 Or Email us.

What Next?

Want more information about your Procedure?

  • For more information about pricing and payment methods, please visit our page on Surgery Payment options.
  • Talk to our Patient Care Team from 8 am to 6 pm Monday to Friday on (03) 8849 1400.

What to Bring to Your Consultation

  • If you like, please bring a friend or relative to help discuss the information and your choices.
  • Take a lot of notes and thoroughly examine the documents your surgeon provides.
  • You may need to undress so it’s a good idea to wear simple clothes.

How to Book a Consultation

  • Dr Briggs’ Consultation fee is $300.
  • A referral from your GP or your specialist is essential (as of the 1st July 2023).
  • Please contact the Patient Care Team at Coco Ruby Plastic Surgery to book your consultation.


The information provided in this article is for educational and informational proposes. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article. The author and publisher of this article make no representation or warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability, or completeness of the content of this article. The information contained in this article is strictly at your own risk.