Body mass index, or BMI, is a diagnostic tool that doctors and plastic surgeons use to help determine whether or not a patient can successfully undergo surgery. While this is true for any kind of surgery, it is particularly helpful for patients who are considering body contouring procedures such as liposuction, a tummy tuck or even a Brazilian Butt Lift. Your BMI takes into account both your height and your weight, and isn’t difficult to calculate.
Patients who have a BMI of 30 or above have been shown to run a higher risk of infection and post operative complications. Dr. Steven Camp of Fort Worth, TX discusses the BMI criteria as well as the outliers to the rule.
What is BMI?
BMI, or body mass index, is the ratio of a person’s height to their weight squared. It is basically a way to account for the fact that someone who is 6’4” will have more tissue than someone who is only 5’2”. Surgeons and doctors use it as a diagnostic tool to help determine whether or not a potential patient has too much body fat that might put them at risk for surgery. While it is not a perfect measurement (as it does not directly assess the body fat), it has been found to be fairly reliable.
There are lots of easy to use at home tools on your computer and iPhone to help you determine your BMI and see where you fall on the range of health.
What is a Healthy BMI?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults who have a BMI that falls between 18.5 and 24.8 are considered healthy. If your BMI is between 25 and 29.9, you are considered overweight, and if it is above 30, you are considered obese. These number ranges apply to both men and women, regardless of age.
While most surgeons would consider the “overweight” range a bit of a grey zone, patients with a BMI above 30 are probably going to be better served considering some lifestyle changes with diet and exercise in order to lose weight prior to surgery, or else delay surgery all together. In general, most surgeons consider it safe to operate on a patient as long as his or her BMI is below 30. However, there is another component to a successful surgery: Did it achieve your goals? And can you maintain your results?
Body Contouring Procedures Are Not About Weight Loss
“A lot of times patients will want to figure out whether or not plastic surgery is right for them,” says Dr. Camp, especially when it comes to body contouring procedures like:
- tummy tuck (abdominoplasty)
If you have a BMI in the high range, it is important to keep in mind that these procedures are not weight loss techniques. They are about restoring proper body proportion. Even with liposuction, the plastic surgeon is strategically removing pockets or areas of fat to whittle your waist, smooth your abdomen or, in the case of a Brazilian butt lift, to remove excess fat from your flanks and adding this volume to your buttocks.
It is really important to be cognizant of what can and can not be achieved with surgery.
BMI & Managing Expectations
While there are a wide variety of body compositions out there, plastic surgeons commonly see “patients who tend to carry their weight on the inside, what some people call internal fat,” says Dr. Camp. Many of these patients will present with a bowed out and/or barreled abdomen. Their BMI will be interesting because the amount of area that the surgeon can treat is actually very thin. The impact that body contouring will have on their bodies is therefore minimal. It’s important for the plastic surgeon to explain to these patients that what they are hoping to achieve is probably not going to happen until more weight is lost.
Exceptions to the BMI Rule
There are always going to be some outliers to the BMI rule. People who are professional weight lifters or former athletes tend to have very high muscle mass, “so we know that they are going to weigh more for their given height frame,” explains Dr. Camp. This is one of the many reasons why an in-person physical exam is so important. It allows your plastic surgeon to determine whether or not you are someone who has “fit fat.” Patients with “fit fat” have a high BMI, but are healthy enough to have a procedure like liposuction.
The reality is that only a few people are former weight lifters or professional athletes, so most patients with a high BMI are not great candidates for surgery.
Risks of High BMI & Surgery
A surgical patient with a BMI of 30 or above has been statistically shown to be at a higher risk for:
- wound infection
- complications with anesthesia
- nerve injury
- heart attack
- poor healing
As well as a litany of other post operative complications that no surgeon or patient wants. It is therefore vital that you listen to your board certified plastic surgeon and follow his or her BMI criteria in order to insure a safe procedure and an outcome that is going to make you happy and healthy.