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During breast reduction surgery

Breast reduction surgery is done under a general anaesthetic.

Your surgeon will make cuts in your breasts and around the areola (the dark area around the nipple) and remove breast tissue. Your nipple will be moved to suit the new shape of your breast.

There are different techniques, and your surgeon will discuss which is the best one for you.

The surgery takes around one to three hours.

Risks and complications

Breast reduction is a commonly performed and generally safe operation. But like all surgery, it carries some risks.

Breast surgery risks

Swelling, bruising and some pain: These are common.

Scars: You'll have scars around your nipple and a vertical scar from the nipple down the lower breast. With some techniques, you'll also have a scar under your breasts. At first, these will be narrow red lines. They usually become paler over the following six months to a year. A few people get raised, red and thickened scars (called keloid or hypertrophic). Tell your surgeon if you've had this type of scar before.

Sensation: You'll usually lose feeling in your nipples, which can be permanent.

Shape: The surgeon cannot guarantee that your breasts will be exactly the same shape. But the difference between the breasts is mostly small enough not to bother people. You may have small skin folds near your armpit or in your cleavage after the surgery. If this happens, you might need a small corrective operation.

Stitches: The buried dissolvable stitches can work themselves onto the skin. If this happens, the surgeon can remove them.

Breastfeeding: You may not be able to breastfeed. Please ask your surgeon for more information about this.

Sore lumps: Areas of fat within the breast can cause sore lumps, called fat necrosis. This usually goes away after around 12 months.

Blood collection: Even though you may have tubes to drain fluid, blood can collect in the breast. This is called a haematoma. If this happens, you may need antibiotics or a small second operation.

Nipple loss: Rarely, the skin of the nipple dies, which can cause scarring or nipple loss. Corrective surgery can help, but it will not replace the look and function of a normal nipple.

General surgical risks

Blood clots

Blood clots are a serious complication. They can cause deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or a pulmonary embolism (PE). Any lengthy operation can cause blood clots, but your healthcare team make every effort to avoid them. You're usually given special stockings to wear during your stay in hospital. You may also be given special medication to minimise the risk, such as a daily injection into your tummy.


These could include chest, urine and wound infections that can be slow to heal. In some surgery, there is also a risk of infection in the blood (septicaemia) that can make you very unwell. Antibiotics will be used to treat these infections if they develop.


This can be an issue during surgery or afterwards. If you bleed too much, you may need to go back to theatre for more surgery and you could need a blood transfusion. You may develop a haematoma (collection of blood) that needs draining.

General anaesthesia

The risks include allergic reactions and rarely potentially fatal effects on your heart and circulation. The risk is different for each person. You can discuss these risks further with your anaesthetist.

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On the next page: After breast reduction surgery

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by Canterbury DHB Plastic Surgery Department. Last reviewed November 2020.


Page reference: 85830

Review key: HIBRR-85826