Breast reduction at a glance
- Breast reduction, also known as reduction mammoplasty, removes excess breast tissue to reduce overall breast size.
- Breast reduction addresses physical discomfort caused by the weight of the breast, health risks, and negative emotions associated with disproportionate breasts.
- It is best suited for those with fully developed breasts.
What is a breast reduction?
Breast reduction surgery reduces the size of overly large or disproportionate breasts by surgically removing spare breast tissue, fat and skin. Sometimes it is necessary to reposition the nipple-areola complex, which can also involve adjustments in size, shape and pigmentation.
Breast reduction is one of the most common plastic surgeries for women. It is often performed for cosmetic reasons, including altering:
- The size of breasts if a woman feels they are too large in appearance, which can cause low self-esteem and anxiety
- Bra strap grooves that are deep and pigmented
- Drooping and sagging
- Stretched breast skin.
Breast reduction also corrects several medical problems. Women with very large breasts, a medical condition called macromastia, can experience the following:
- Chronic pain and discomfort, such as headaches and neck and shoulder pain, that affect quality of life
- Persistent rashes under the breasts
- Difficulty exercising, which can lead to obesity
- Numbness in the arms and hands caused by poor posture
- Respiratory problems
- Cystic breast infections
- Difficulty sleeping
Breast reduction procedure
Breast reduction surgery may last anywhere from three to five hours. After anesthesia is administered, the surgeon makes incisions in the breast tissue. Incision points depend on the amount of tissue to be removed. Incision points may be located around the areola, or a keyhole pattern incision around the areola then downward to the breast crease, or an anchor-shaped incision that circles around the areola and outward.
Once the surgeon makes the incision, he or she then repositions the nipple while it remains attached to its original nerves. If removing a large amount of tissue, the surgeon may perform a technique called a free nipple graft, which requires he or she to remove the nipple and areola completely from the skin and nerve tissue to position them higher on the breast. Sometimes the surgeon shaves the nipple around the perimeter to reduce its size.
The surgeon then uses traditional surgical methods or liposuction to remove the desired amount of tissue from the breast. Techniques depend on the individual’s condition and the amount of tissues being removed. Once complete, the surgeon closes the incisions and inserts sutures deeply within the remaining breast tissue to support the new shape.
Recovering from a breast reduction
Immediately following surgery, the breasts are wrapped in dressing and the surgeon will apply bandages to incision points. Patients should expect overall soreness. The surgeon may recommend medications to aid in the healing process and reduce infection risk.
Breast reduction surgery requires, at the least, a week off from work and a month without any physical activity. A breast reduction leaves permanent scars, but they will continually fade and minimize as long as patients follow proper post-op care.
Breast reduction risks and considerations
Along with general surgery risks such as reactions to anesthesia, infection, bleeding and blood clots, breast reductions carry specific risks that should be fully considered prior to surgery. These include permanent pigment change, breast asymmetry, unfavorable scarring and changes (both temporary and sometimes permanent) in sensation. In rare cases, the nipple area fails to heal adequately, and a skin graft may be required.
Women who plan to become pregnant after a breast reduction may be unable to breastfeed after a breast reduction because the surgery may damage nerves and milk glands. Breast reductions may also interfere with some diagnostic procedures, such as a mammogram.