Arm lift surgery generally safe, minor risks need to be considered, Mayo Clinic finds


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ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Mayo Clinic plastic surgeons report that surgery to remove excess skin and fat in the upper arm, known as an "arm lift," is generally low risk. Minor complications may arise in approximately 25 percent of cases.

"We concluded that an arm lift is a safe procedure, but there are complications associated with it that surgeons and patients should be aware of," says James Knoetgen, III, M.D., Mayo Clinic plastic surgeon and lead study investigator. "Overall, the complication rate is relatively low, and the large majority of complications are minor. The only concerning complication we encountered in our study was injury to or irritation of sensory nerves in the arm that can cause numbness in the forearms, and rarely, pain in the hand and forearm."

In the Mayo Clinic study, the types of complications found to arise following arm lift surgery included fluid collections under the skin (10 percent), poor scarring (10 percent), skin infection (7.5 percent), abscesses under the skin (2.5 percent) and wound separation (7.5 percent). Nerve injuries occurred in 5 percent of the patients; one patient experienced prolonged numbness of one forearm and hand, and another patient developed pain in one forearm and hand. None of the patients required operative treatment for the complications.

Of the 40 patients studied, five had parts of their arm lifts revised, four to make changes in the skin appearance and one to have arm liposuction.

Dr. Knoetgen and Steven Moran, M.D., also a Mayo Clinic plastic surgeon, undertook this research to better understand the complications and outcomes of arm lift surgery, indicates Dr. Knoetgen.

In addition to aesthetic benefits, arm lifts can provide functional benefits for some patients. Dr. Knoetgen explains that in massive weight loss patients, an arm lift can help treat rashes that have developed due to excess upper arm skin sticking to the skin of the armpit and chest. It may also improve ability to exercise and make clothes fit better.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons' (ASPS) statistics, ASPS member surgeons and other certified physicians performed 9,955 arm lifts in 2004. Of these arm lifts, 4 percent were performed on males and 96 percent on females. In addition, the society's statistics indicate a 2845 percent increase in upper arm lift surgeries from 2000 to 2004.

Dr. Knoetgen attributes the rise of this surgery's popularity primarily to the growth in weight loss surgeries such as gastric bypass surgery, since massive weight loss typically results in large amounts of excess skin. He also points out, however, that recently he has witnessed an increased interest in this surgery from non-massive weight loss patients.

This study involved a retrospective review examining all arm lift (brachioplasty) procedures performed between 1988 and 2004 at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. All of the 40 patients were female, with an average age of 47. Of these, 76 percent underwent arm lift surgery following significant weight loss, 74 percent of whom had gastric bypass surgery. The surgical technique utilized in all patients involved removal of skin and fat skin from the inner side of the upper arm. The patients' arm lift outcomes were studied an average of 50 months following surgery.

These findings will be presented in an abstract at the American Association of Plastic Surgeons 84th Annual Meeting at the Hyatt Regency at Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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