What is plastic surgery?

Plastic surgery is a medical procedure done for the purpose of altering or restoring the form of the body and usually it involves the transfer of tissue, either in the treatment of injury or for cosmetic reasons.

Procedures can be considered reconstructive when they help restore a patient's body structure and function to normal levels. Surgical procedures repair the damage resulting from trauma or the body's physical abnormalities.

In contrast to cosmetic surgery, which are elective procedures that people may undergo for purely superficial reasons, the underlying purpose for reconstructive surgery concentrates on repairing, replacing and rebuilding parts of the human body to return them to normal functioning capabilities.

Because reconstructive plastic surgery is performed out of necessity to restore the body's ability to engage in daily tasks, the procedures are usually covered by health insurance.

Doctors who specialize in plastic surgery are trained to do surgical procedures on different parts of the body to repair, rebuild and correct the affected areas.

Reasons to get plastic surgery

Plastic surgery that repairs various parts of the human body can include facial surgery to correct congenital defects and abnormalities.

Patients who have suffered severe burns or been involved in traumatic accidents may seek reconstructive work to reshape facial features or have skin grafts replace and restore areas damaged by cancer, injury, burns or birth defects.

Reconstructive procedures can help patients who were born with a cleft palate or lip to correct eating and speech difficulties and to prevent ear infections and dental problems. Cancer patients who may have excessive scarring on the facial region after the removal of tumors can also benefit from reconstructive work.

Patients can benefit in other ways, ranging from a boost in confidence to an improvement in overall health and wellness when the capacity to fully engage in day-to-day duties and responsibilities is restored.

Plastic surgery risks

As with all surgeries, there is a risk of infection. Infections at the surgical site can lead to added scarring and additional procedures. Other risks include a reaction to the anesthesia.

Complications can go from mild (nausea and vomiting or headaches) to severe (pneumonia, blood clots and even death). In certain facial procedures, you can risk nerve damage that numbs part of your face or causes tingling. This can dissipate over time or become permanent depending on the severity of the damage. Other risk factors include dissatisfaction with the outcome of the procedure.

We all hear about "botched plastic surgery," so that's why finding a great cosmetic surgeon is so vital to a successful outcome.

Doing your research on cosmetic surgeons and reading patient reviews is key. To find a certified, reputable surgeon who comes highly recommended and reviewed, check the listings on Angie's List. Visit different offices and make a few consultation appointments, get to know the doctor and how things operate. Become comfortable with your physician before going under the knife.

You may pay more for a highly rated and in-demand doctor, but in the end you will be pleased with the results and feel like you made the best choice.

How to choose a plastic surgeon

Consult with your health insurance provider to make sure that your type of plastic surgery work is a covered procedure. Most companies give their customers a directory of providers that lists the surgeons by specialty.

If you can choose your own doctor outside of the network of listed providers you may be responsible for some of the costs. Make sure that you verify the qualifications of any doctor that you may be considering.

A qualified surgeon must have received their education and training from an accredited medical school to become licensed.

Thoroughly explore all your options so you are aware of what your insurance company will cover.

Have a checklist of questions available to guide you during your consultation with a  surgeon. When you meet, expect the doctor to discuss what is involved in the procedure. You may be offered alternative choices for treatment, so make sure that you are fully informed of all your options.

Ask the surgeon to show you before-and-after images of some patients that have used their services. This is a common practice for those doctors that do plastic surgery.

Seeing the beneficial results that the surgical procedures can have on an individual's appearance will make you feel more comfortable and at ease.

During your appointment with a plastic surgeon, make sure that you go over all the details of the treatment including costs and what to expect during recovery. If you are being treated by your primary care physician for any health conditions and are taking prescription medicines, make sure that the surgeon is fully informed.

The surgeon should provide you with information about the possible risks and complications that may result from reconstructive procedures.

For more specifics about the surgeries themselves, check out these popular options:

Hair replacement and transplants

Cosmetic surgery can go well beyond just the face and neck. Hair loss is a serious concern for millions of men and women that can affect self-esteem. Balding adults often are self-conscious and uncomfortable around others.

Surgical procedures can be used to transplant and replace hair, but they can be expensive and more compicated than you might realize. Be sure you understand any process you choose to treat hair loss.

READ MORE: Angie's List Guide to Hair Replacement and Transplants

Breast surgery

Breast surgery for women and men may involve breast augmentation, a breast lift or a breast reduction. Most surgeries are considered elective procedures and can be performed at a surgery clinic or in a hospital.

Learn More: Angie's List Guide to Breast Surgery

Laser skin treatment

One cosmetic procedure that has become popular in recent years is laser skin treatment, also called laser resurfacing, lasabrasion or laser peel. It's an outpatient process that involves a physician aiming small bursts of light at the imperfections, removing the outer skin layers one by one.

Laser skin treatment works best for those who have subtle lines and wrinkles on the face, superficial blemishes or who just want a fresher look.

READ MORE: Angie's List Guide to Laser Skin Treatment

Vein treatment

Although most cosmetic surgical procedures involve the face, many people choose to treat varicose and spider veins with surgery. These conditions usually aren't dangerous, but they can cause problems in some people, especially if the varicose veins are severe.

Patients most commonly seek out vein treatment to remove these unsightly and uncomfortable conditions.

READ MORE: Angie's List Guide to Vein Treatment

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