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Panniculectomy: What to Expect at Home

Before-and-after pictures of a panniculectomy, showing the area of the skin that is removed and the location of the resulting scar

Your Recovery

A panniculectomy is surgery to remove fat and skin that hangs down from your belly. Often the extra fat and skin come from losing a lot of weight.

Your belly will be sore and swollen for the first week after surgery. The skin on your belly will probably be mostly numb for several weeks to months. Feeling will come back slowly. But you may have small areas around the incisions that are always numb. Don't use a heating pad on your stomach while it's still numb, or you could have severe burns. It's normal to feel tired while you heal. It can take 5 to 6 weeks for your energy to return.

You won't be able to stand up straight when you get home. To regain your normal movement, you'll need to get up and walk every day. Between walks, move your feet and legs often.

The surgery leaves one or more scars that will fade with time. If they don't fade, check with your doctor.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Allow the area to heal. Don't move quickly or lift anything heavy until you are feeling better.
  • Rest when you feel tired.
  • Be active. Walking is a good choice. For the first few weeks after the surgery, your doctor may have you bend slightly at the waist when you stand up and walk around.
  • You can do your normal activities when it feels okay to do so.
  • You will probably need to take 2 to 3 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
  • Ask your doctor when it is okay for you to have sex.
  • Hold a pillow over your incisions when you cough or take deep breaths. This will support your belly and may help to decrease your pain.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • If your bowel movements are not regular right after surgery, try to avoid constipation and straining. Drink plenty of water. Your doctor may suggest fibre, a stool softener, or a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking this medicine again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.

Incision care

  • You will have a dressing over the cut (incision). A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.
  • If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • If you had stitches or staples, your doctor will tell you when to come back to have them removed.
  • Wash the area daily with warm water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. They can slow healing.
  • You may need to wait a few days before you can take a shower. Follow the instructions that your doctor gives you for bathing and showering.

Other instructions

  • You will likely have several drains near your incision. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of them.
  • You may have a special girdle, called a binder, placed around the area where you had surgery. This binder will help ease swelling and pain. Your doctor will tell you how long to wear it.
  • Your doctor may have you sleep in a recliner, or propped up in bed, with pillows under your knees. This will help keep your stitches from breaking.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have symptoms of a blood clot in your lung (called a pulmonary embolism). These may include:
    • Sudden chest pain.
    • Trouble breathing.
    • Coughing up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You are bleeding from the incision.
  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.