Atrium Health Navicent Specialty Center

Reconstructive Surgery

Middle aged woman smiling

Reconstructive surgery is performed to correct physical problems caused by trauma, disease, birth defects, infections and other problems. These operations are performed by plastic surgeons, and over a million procedures are completed each year. The goal can be restoring a part of the body to its original function, making it look the same as before or both of these things.

Often, people equate plastic surgery with cosmetic surgery, but the vast majority of plastic surgeries performed are reconstructive surgeries. These are operations that are determined to be necessary to the happiness and well-being of the patient, and they are usually covered by insurance plans. Microsurgery and increased knowledge of plastic surgery techniques have improved the effectiveness of reconstructive operations in the past few decades.

Here are Four Common Types of Reconstruction Surgery:

Reconstructive Surgery after Cancer

Plastic surgery for cancer patients can correct problems caused by the removal of a tumor or other necessary surgery. Reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy is one common form of this surgery. In 2014, there were 102,200 post-mastectomy reconstructive operations performed in the U.S. alone.

Head and neck cancer can also disrupt a person's features because parts of the face, head or neck may have to be removed to eradicate the cancerous area. This requires reconstruction of the head, face, jaws or mouth, referred to as maxillofacial surgery. Many times, reconstructive surgery can be started during the same operation performed to remove cancerous tissue, and often by the same surgeon.

Correction of Congenital Defects

Babies are sometimes born with defects that need to be corrected such as cleft palate or more serious problems like neural tube defects. The operating surgeon and the plastic surgeon consult together in these types of cases, and there are doctors that specialize in pediatric reconstructive surgery.

Sometimes adults also need surgery because of congenital defects. They may experience difficulty breathing or excessive snoring as they age due to anomalies in their sinuses. Some adults born with heart defects aren't diagnosed until adulthood when symptoms like fatigue or shortness of breath begin to appear or become more noticeable.

Repair of Defects Caused by Traumatic Injury

Reconstructive surgery for trauma involves repairing damage caused by injuries. This includes skin grafts to help in the recovery of burn victims. Sometimes skin grafts can cause disability or disfigurement, leading to the need for more reparative surgery. In this case, plastic surgery focuses on maximizing the range of motion and minimizing the scarring left behind.

Occasionally, parts of the body can be reattached after being severed. This is highly advanced reconstructive surgery that involves micro-suturing of blood vessels. For cases in which a part of the body is permanently lost, a prosthesis can sometimes be substituted to make the person look the same as before. This includes replacing missing teeth and joints, as well as providing prosthetics that replace limbs.

Repair of Disease Related Defects

This type of corrective surgery repairs damage to the body from infections and disease. At times, diseases can leave people with problems eating, speaking and interacting with others. Sometimes the care of a wound may include performing plastic surgery such as tissue grafts to reconstruct the affected area. Occasionally, flap reconstruction is performed. This involves moving a piece of tissue and its blood vessels from one area to another where it is needed.

One type of disease-related reconstruction surgery has, unfortunately, been performed more often in recent years. Reconstruction of the hands and feet in diabetic patients is needed when those extremities lose adequate blood flow due to mismanagement of the disease. There has been recent progress in using stem cells to encourage tissue re-growth in some of these cases.

Benefits of Reconstructive Surgery

Reconstructive plastic surgery can have a major impact on people's images of themselves. Many people who suffer from cancer, trauma, or illness do not look the same afterward, and their self-esteem suffers because of it. Each person's doctor will evaluate his or her overall health, his or her age, and the severity of his or her defect when helping them decide on whether or not to undergo reconstructive surgery.