While both infection and traumatic fat necrosis can lead to yellow discharge from incisions, there’s a big difference between the two
If you’ve had plastic surgery, keeping an eye on your surgical incisions is critical for catching any signs of infection: if you see oozing of yellow liquid or discharge, redness, pain, or warmth—or if you have a fever—contact your personal plastic surgeon ASAP for an evaluation.
As an expert in surgical wound healing, your board certified plastic surgeon is the person you should contact first, before your family doctor or another medical practitioner. Plastic surgeons are also familiar with traumatic fat necrosis (TFN), which mimics a bacterial infection but is unfortunately possible, though rare, after some plastic surgeries.
Traumatic fat necrosis
Traumatic fat necrosis (TFN) is the death of a small area of fat cells due to a loss of blood supply. TFN is most likely to occur after a trauma to the area, such as surgery, injury, a biopsy, or radiation for cancer therapy. Fat necrosis is a wound healing abnormality that most commonly occurs in the breasts, i.e. after breast augmentation, breast lift, or breast reduction plastic surgery, and tends to occur near or below the nipple-areola complex.
Signs of a fat necrosis
- Yellow liquid leaking from an incision
- Change in texture of fatty tissue, i.e. hardened lumps
- Skin that appears red, bruised, or thickened
If you have yellow leakage from your early post-surgical incision, it’s absolutely critical to see your plastic surgeon as soon as possible in case it’s an infection for evaluation. While there is a possibility that it is harmless, it should be evaluated by an expert who understands both conditions.
If you have a yellow leakage from your incision site, it may be either a bacterial infection, which requires treatment, or “traumatic fat necrosis,” which is not dangerous, and doesn’t require treatment.
How is breast fat necrosis diagnosed and treated?
Breast fat necrosis may be diagnosed via a thorough breast examination, or may require a mammogram if it appears as a lump in the breast. Aspiration of the lump (a.k.a. removing the fluid inside) with a fine needle may be necessary, or a biopsy may be taken.
Once diagnosed with certainty, a fat necrosis will usually resolve on its own, and does not require treatment. Note that any changes to your breasts should always be discussed with your doctor as soon as possible, whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with fat necrosis.
Infection of surgical incisions
Infection of a surgical wound after plastic surgery is not just dangerous, but can also negatively affect aesthetic outcomes. This complication is rare (less than 1% by most estimates) in the hands of an experienced, board-certified plastic surgeon who operates in fully accredited surgical facilities. Unfortunately, infections may be more likely when patients travel abroad for budget cosmetic surgery as “medical tourists.”
It’s critical to first see your original plastic surgeon if you experience fluid leakage from an incision site for an examination and diagnosis.
To prevent the risk of infection, reputable plastic surgeons screen patients for risk factors, prescribe preventative antibiotics, use surgical drains to remove fluid buildup at the site, and advise you/monitor your progress on proper post-operative care: keeping the surgical wound clean and limiting your physical activity to avoid irritating incisions.
Signs of an infection after plastic surgery
- Yellow liquid or discharge from the incision site, especially if it smells foul
How is an infection diagnosed and treated?
If a post-surgical infection is suspected based on your symptoms, we will test a sample of the fluid at the incision site for bacterial culture. Antibiotics are given to treat an infection.
About Dr. S. Larry Schlesinger in Honolulu: Dr. Schlesinger and our staff at Breast Implant Center of Hawaii are here to learn about your cosmetic goals and provide outstanding care to meet them using a range of surgical and non-surgical procedures. We partner with our patients throughout their surgical journey and are always just a phone call away to address any concerns you have. To learn more or to schedule your consultation, call 808-597-8835 or contact us online today.