People who have managed to lose a significant amount of weight through diet, exercise, or weight loss surgery often deal with unattractive loose skin. In some cases, the excess skin causes as many problems as the excess pounds that they worked so hard to lose.
Dr. Ninh T. Nguyen, MD, is the President-elect of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS). In an interview about undergoing weight loss surgery, he talked about how doctors help their patients deal with loose skin after weight loss.
Is Loose Skin Normal?
Dr. Nguyen says that excess skin is one of the most common problems that post-bariatric surgery patients face. "It can be one of the biggest hurdles," he says. But he adds that it's not a problem that patients will face alone.
Dr. Nguyen counsels his patient before surgery about what to expect during the entire weight loss process. He continues to see patients for the rest of their lives following surgery. If loose skin becomes a medical issue due to infection or if the patient is uncomfortable about the look of the skin, the surgeon will work together with the patient to figure out the best option for their particular condition.
Who Gets Loose Skin?
There are a few factors that may affect whether you'll have excess skin and how much loose skin you'll get. Slow, steady weight loss can help prevent loose skin because it gives the skin more time to regain elasticity and recover.
Age is another factor. "Older patients (generally 50 years and over) are at higher risk for getting loose skin after weight loss surgery because their skin is less elastic and less able to recover from the change in size." says Nguyen.
Can Loose Skin Be Prevented?
In some cases, excess skin can be prevented or minimized. Dr. Nguyen says that exercise is one of the best ways to deal with it. "It's not perfect," he says, "but it helps to tighten both the muscle and the skin."
Starting an exercise program when you are overweight or when you don't like the way you look can be difficult, but it's worth the effort. A workout that emphasizes both cardiovascular activity and strength training will help to shape your body and build muscle. If you're short on time, try combining both activities into a circuit style workout to make your sessions more efficient.
What About Plastic Surgery?
In some cases, surgery is necessary. But not every patient will want to go under the knife. For loose skin on the abdomen, there are typically two procedures from which to choose:
- Abdominoplasty: Both the muscle and the skin of the abdomen are tightened during this surgical procedure. Because it is considered a cosmetic surgery, it is not usually covered by insurance.
- Panniculectomy: Your doctor may recommend this procedure if you are experiencing skin breakdown or infection from loose skin or hanging skin on your abdomen. During the surgery, excess skin is removed and tightened, but the muscles are not tightened. Many insurance providers are more likely to cover this procedure.
If you have loose skin after weight loss surgery, your best resource is your bariatric surgeon. He or she will be able to answer questions about your specific condition and make the best recommendation for you. If you've got excess skin from weight lost through traditional methods and exercise hasn't helped, consider speaking to your health care provider. Your excess skin may be both manageable and treatable.
Nguyen, Ninh T., MD, President-elect, American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Interview. July 16, 2012