What Is Plastic Surgery?

  • Farwah Alam BS(Hons)in Microbiology and Molecular genetics, University of the Punjab, Pakistan

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Every time we open social media, we come across stories of famous personalities, and celebrities undergoing nose jobs or liposuction. This entire thing is what we call plastic surgery. But what is plastic surgery and why is it called that way? This article offers glimpses of everything you need to know about this emerging surgery, from where it all started to the most common procedures in the market.

Origin of the term plastic surgery

While many of us hear the word plastic surgery, we perceive it as artificial or make a connection with the “plastic” we know today, but the term itself, derived from the Greek word “plastikos'', signifies a process of reformation and enhancement. 

What is plastic surgery?

Plastic surgery enhances the person's appearance as well as reconstructs facial and body tissue defects due to trauma, illness or birth disorders. It helps patients of all ages and types, like a child born with birth defects, an adult who got injured due to accidents or trauma, or an old person having problems due to ageing. Plastic surgery is a broad surgical speciality that, unlike other surgical specialities, is not confined to one organ. Plastic surgeons work with other specialities like gynaecology, ophthalmology, orthopaedic surgery, and oral surgery to reform or reconstruct any anomalies or defects in the body.

Types of plastic surgeries

The field of plastic surgery is a blanket field which includes two subspecialties known as 

  • Reconstructive plastic surgeries
  • Cosmetic plastic surgeries

Reconstructive plastic surgeries

Anomalies caused by birth defects, developmental abnormalities, trauma, or illness are addressed by reconstructive plastic surgeries. Cleft lip, palate repair, and breast reconstruction are a few examples of reconstructive plastic surgeries. These types of surgeries are considered medically necessary. 

Cosmetic plastic surgeries:

These types of plastic surgeries are often done to enhance and improve the overall appearance of the body, making it aesthetically and visually appealing. Such surgeries are not considered as medically necessary. Popular cosmetic surgeries include breast augmentation, breast lift, liposuction, abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), and facelift.

Procedures in plastic surgeries

Reconstructive plastic surgeries

Breast reconstruction

After mastectomy-surgery to remove an entire breast to treat or prevent breast cancer, patients have the option of having the shape of the removed breast rebuilt by reconstructive plastic surgery that includes either using implants (silicone or saline) or autologous tissue( tissue from somewhere elsewhere in the body). Sometimes both of the options-implants and autologous tissues are used for the breast rebuild. 

  • Implants-based reconstructive plastic surgery is usually a two-step based procedure. First, the tissue expander is placed under the skin after mastectomy, and when it is sufficiently expanded, a permanent implant is placed.
  • Autologous reconstruction surgery includes taking a piece of tissue containing skin, fat and sometimes muscles from elsewhere in the body and is used to rebuild the breast. This piece of tissue is called a flap. Flaps for breast reconstruction can be taken from the abdomen, back, thigh or buttock.

Burn repair surgery

Plastic surgeons play an important role in the care of both paediatric and adults suffering from burn injuries. Skin grafting, the use of different biological matrices, flaps, allografts, and free tissue transfer are examples of techniques used in burn reconstructive procedures.

Cosmetic procedures

Rhinoplasty

The medical term used for surgical procedures commonly known as nose job, nose reshaping or nasal surgery is rhinoplasty. This involves the surgical reconstruction and reshaping of the bone or the cartilage of the nose for the aesthetic appearance and proper function of the nose. Rhinoplasty can correct breathing difficulties, congenital deformities, or injuries, thus developing a delicate balance between aesthetics and well-being.

Liposuction

Formally known as lipectomy, is a surgical procedure to remove excess body fats from specific areas of the body. This term nowadays also known as lipoplasty,  is one of the most commonly performed aesthetic surgical procedures worldwide. This surgical procedure is used to contour and reduce the localised fat deposits of the abdomen, hips, thighs, buttocks, back, upper arms, inner knees, calves, ankles, and other areas where diet and exercise alone have not been successful. Liposuction is neither an obesity treatment nor a replacement for regular exercise and a healthy diet. This is a popular cosmetic surgical procedure that only works for people of normal weight who have some extra fat and can help people achieve a slimmer and more proportional body shape.

Choosing plastic surgeons

The American Board of Plastic Surgery is an important factor to be considered when choosing a plastic surgeon. A plastic surgeon is a plastic surgery board-certified surgeon who has typically completed at least five years of graduate medical study, with two years dedicated to plastic surgery and three years to general surgery, after graduating from an authorised medical school. For plastic surgeons to become board-certified, they must additionally complete two years of plastic surgery practice and pass extensive written and oral exams. Every ten years renewing board certification guarantees continued proficiency in the field. Approximately 6900 plastic surgeons are in the United States. Plastic surgeons are viewed as the "problem solvers" of surgery, doing operations on patients from birth to death and from head to toe.

Risks and benefits of plastic surgeries

Before going for a plastic surgery procedure, you must consider some negatives and positives associated with plastic surgery.

Risks 

Some risks that are inherent in surgical procedures are bleeding, blood clots, infections, and side effects that may include bruising, discomfort and swelling. Also, plastic surgery is expensive, recovery duration can range from a few weeks to a couple of months depending on the specificity of the surgery.

Benefits 

Some of the main advantages include boosting confidence, enhancing mental well-being, hiding flaws, looking younger, improving scarring, and obesity treatment.

Cultural and ethical considerations

Influence on body image

Cultural beauty standards have a significant influence on plastic surgery procedures and the way people view their bodies. In an effort to live and fit up to societal norms and media representations of these goals, people may seek out cosmetic surgeries. It is essential to acknowledge and comprehend this influence in order to approach cosmetic surgery with compassion and nuance.

Plastic surgery ethics

In plastic surgery, patient autonomy, openness, and the promotion of reasonable beauty standards are the main ethical concerns. Informed consent, truthfulness in advertising, and determining a patient's mental preparedness for surgery are all responsibilities of surgeons. A patient-centred approach that takes into account psychological well-being and societal impact in addition to physical modifications is fostered by striking a balance between individual choice and ethical obligations.

Advancements in plastic surgery

Recent years advancements have been seen in the field of plastic surgery. Reconstructive surgeries benefit from new methods such as the use of various flaps. Body components can be transferred and reattached all because of microsurgery. Treating tendons and nerves as soon as possible is effective for hand injuries. For hands that are damaged, there are new joints. A relatively recent profession that helps with disorders related to the face and eyes is called craniofacial surgery. For certain skin disorders, lasers are showing promise. Safety and long-lasting outcomes are the main objectives of cosmetic surgery. Treatment of radionecrosis is also getting better.

Conclusion

Plastic surgery is a medical multidiscipline comprising both reconstructive and cosmetic procedures. Reconstructive plastic surgeries aim to restore normal functioning and well-being, often addressing traumatic surgeries or congenital anomalies. On the other hand, cosmetic surgeries focus on enhancing aesthetics and visuals. Plastic surgery is influenced by societal beauty standards and ideals. Ultimately, the impact of plastic surgery extends beyond physical transformations, shaping the lives of individuals and contributing to the broader conversation on beauty in our society.

References:

  1. Overview of Plastic Surgery. 22 Mar. 2021, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/overview-of-plastic-surgery.
  2. “What Is Plastic Surgery?” American Society of Plastic Surgeons, https://www.plasticsurgery.org/for-medical-professionals/community/medical-students-forum/what-is-plastic-surgery. Accessed 15 Dec. 2023.
  3. Plastic Surgery. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-treatments/p/plastic-surgery.html. Accessed 15 Dec. 2023.
  4. admin. “The Origin Of Plastic Surgery: Where Does The Term Come From?” Dr. Markarian, 6 Oct. 2019, https://plasticsurgeryofboston.com/the-origin-of-plastic-surgery/.
  5. Minas Chrysopoulo, MD |. San Antonio, and January 12 Friday. “What’s the Difference between Reconstructive and Cosmetic Procedures?” American Society of Plastic Surgeons, https://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/blog/whats-the-difference-between-reconstructive-and-cosmetic-procedures. Accessed 15 Dec. 2023.
  6. Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy - NCI. 17 Oct. 2016, https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/reconstruction-fact-sheet.
  7. Barret, Juan P. “Burns Reconstruction.” BMJ : British Medical Journal, vol. 329, no. 7460, July 2004, pp. 274–76. PubMed Central, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC498030/.
  8. Nose Reshaping (Rhinoplasty). 8 Aug. 2021, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/nose-reshaping.
  9. Bartow, Matthew J., and Blake S. Raggio. “Liposuction.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2023. PubMed, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK563135/.
  10. “Liposuction.” American Society of Plastic Surgeons, https://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/liposuction. Accessed 15 Dec. 2023.
  11. King, Timothy W. “Plastic Surgery.” Building a Clinical Practice, edited by Tracy S. Wang and Adam W. Beck, Springer International Publishing, 2020, pp. 203–14. Springer Link, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-29271-3_23.
  12. McDonald, Harold D., and Luis O. Vasconez. “Advances in Plastic Surgery.” Western Journal of Medicine, vol. 136, no. 1, Jan. 1982, pp. 23–28. PubMed Central, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1273369/.
  13. “Plastic Surgery.” Nhs.Uk, 23 Oct. 2017, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/plastic-surgery/.

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Farwah Alam

BS(Hons)in Microbiology and Molecular genetics, University of the Punjab, Pakistan

Farwah, a research scholar in microbiology and molecular genetics, is a passionate science communicator. She simplifies complex concepts, expressing her love for science and aspiring to contribute meaningfully to health research.

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