The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Plastic surgery

Plastic surgery is a general term for operative manual and instrumental treatment which is performed for functional or aesthetic reasons. The word "plastic" derives from the Greek plastikos meaning to mould or to shape; its use here is not connected with modern plastics.

The principal areas of plastic surgery include two broad fields.

  • Reconstructive surgery, including microsurgery, which focuses on undoing or masking the destructive effects of trauma, surgery or disease. Such plastic surgery may include closing defects by transplantion of tissue from other parts of the body.
  • Cosmetic (or aesthetic) surgery, which most is often done to change features the patient finds unflattering. In a few cases, however, there may be medical reasons (for example, breast reduction when orthopedic problems are present).


The history of cosmetic surgery spans back to the ancient world. The Romans were able to perform simple techniques such as repairing damaged ears. In the Middle Ages, there were techniques to restore a severed nose by attaching the arm to the face and letting a blood supply form then removing the arm from the new nose. Nevertheless, it was not until modern times that its use became commonplace.

Reconstructive surgery

Reconstructive surgical techniques were developed rapidly in the period after the First World War when patients with survivable but disfiguring injuries required new approaches. The English military hospitals of the period trained surgeons from the world over in these new techniques. These surgeons then returned to the Americas, the Pacific and to Europe to propagate their advances. The main advances were with flap surgery—moving tissue from one location to another with an intact blood supply.

Common cases of reconstructive surgery are breast reconstruction for women who have had a mastectomy, facial- and contracture surgery for burn victims, closing skin- or mucosa defects after removal of tumors in the head and neck region.

Sex reassignment surgery for transsexual people is another example of reconstructive surgery.

Foreskin restoration for men who have undergone circumcision is sometimes performed using reconstructive surgery.

There is a definite gray area between reconstructive and cosmetic surgery. For instance a "bat ear" correction is not considered cosmetic surgery, even though having prominent ears is not a debilitating or dangerous condition.

Cosmetic surgery

Many people take a dim view of cosmetic surgery, as they see it as frivolous. It does, at any rate, involve some risk (like any operation) and should therefore not be undertaken lightly. Within the US, critics of plastic surgery have noted that it is legal for any doctor (regardless of speciality) to perform plastic surgery; a practice which, critics argue, leads to poorly performed surgery. In addition, there is increasing concern about cosmetic surgeries not done in the United States, especially liposuctions performed at the Dominican Republic: while that type of surgery there is considerably cheaper, six women were reported in 2004 to have returned to the United States from the Dominican Republic with an infection after having liposuctions there, and, in 2001, a Puerto Rican woman died, in a very widely publicized case by Puerto Rican newspapers, after contracting an infection during liposuction surgery, also in the Dominican Republic.

Despite criticism, cosmetic surgery is becoming more popular as less expensive and better techniques are being developed. There are numerous types of cosmetic surgery that can be performed. The most prevalent are listed below. Most of these types of surgery are more commonly known by their "common names." These are also listed when pertinent.

Related disciplines

  • Hand surgery is not strictly a field of plastic surgery, as it is also performed by many orthopedic surgeons. However, many hand operations (such as reconstruction of injuries, replantations, rheumatoid surgery and surgery of congenital defects) are performed by plastic surgeons.
  • Maxillofacial surgery (surgery involving the jaw) is not usually considered a field of plastic surgery, although there is significant overlap of techniques and operations.

Addiction to cosmetic surgery

Some people appear to become addicted to cosmetic surgery, possibly because of body dysmorphic disorder. Sufficient amounts of repeated cosmetic surgery can lead to irreversible damage to the normal body structure. However, due to the high cost of repeated cosmetic surgery, this disorder is generally one limited to the wealthy.

See also

External links

Last updated: 07-30-2005 17:02:19
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13