For many people, summer is not just about traveling to see the sights; it is also about cosmetic surgery. Hundreds of Americans leave the country each year to undergo low-cost cosmetic procedures or to have procedures that are unsanctioned in the United States. A new study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery shows that patients traveling to other countries for cosmetic surgery may get more than they bargained for - but in complications and costs.
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery is the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Researchers from the plastic surgery department at the Brigham and Women's Hospital-Harvard Medical School studied the health records of 78 patients who came to the hospital with complications from cosmetic surgery performed in a developing country.
The patients underwent their procedures between 2010 and 2017.
Most of the patients were women, and the average age was 53 years.
Most patients had traveled out of the U.S. for the abdominoplasty tummy tuck and breast implant augmentation surgery.
Complications seen by patients included infections at the surgical site, delayed wound healing and pain. Twelve of the 78 patients required hospitalization for their complications.
Some patients with infections and delayed wound healing required long-term care to resolve their complications.
Of the cases reviewed in the study, three of the individuals returned to the U.S. from the country where they had surgery with surgical drains in place. These individuals were instructed to remove the drains when they were ready, an act that could be dangerous.
"Many people lack the medical training to remove a surgical drain, and responsible and trained providers would not direct a patient to do so," said Dr. Mona Alqulali, a cosmetic surgeon practicing in Bettendorf, Iowa.
The hospital researchers also found three patients who sought follow-up care had hernias because of their tummy tuck procedures. Four patients reported receiving breast implants they did not agree to, and one woman did not know she had undergone implant surgery.
Patients who underwent breast-augmentation procedures reported experiencing complications with their breast implants, including scarring, implant rupture and unsatisfactory results.
Almost 60 percent of the individuals had their cosmetic surgery procedures performed in the Dominican Republic, an important fact that was not lost on the study authors as most of the patients who traveled to the Dominican Republic were of Dominican ethnicity.
The reason this information was so critical to the researchers was that many individuals believe that traveling to a foreign country for cosmetic surgery is something done by affluent people.
Instead, it shows that individuals seeking out cosmetic procedures tend to travel to their home countries to have procedures done at a lower cost.
"The cheaper price tag of cosmetic procedures overseas is a major lure for some individuals. Cheaper is not always better. Cheaper can be dangerous," Alqulali said.
Lower prices also lure people to unqualified or unlicensed providers in this country, too.
In March, The Miami Herald reported that Delma Pineda, a San Francisco woman who traveled to Miami for cosmetic surgery, died from complications from her procedure performed at CG Cosmetic Surgery.
Before her procedure, Pineda was not given a medical exam to clear her for surgery. She was also not given medication to manage pain after her procedure.
Pineda was the eighth person to die at the cosmetic surgery clinic in South Florida since May 2016.
In 2017, the UK newspaper The Sun featured the story of Siobhan Phelan, a 30-year-old woman who almost lost her lip after a discount dermal filler injection administered improperly by an unlicensed provider at a hair salon.
USA Today. Shopping for a plastic surgeon on Instagram? You could get botched. USA Today. 30 August 2017.
The Miami Herald. Mother of two came to Miami for cosmetic surgery. A day later, she died. 14 March 2018.
ASPS. Plastic Surgery Abroad Can Lead to Severe Complications after Returning to the US. 29 March 2018.