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Breast Reduction Surgery

What Is Breast Reduction Surgery?

Breast reduction surgery is a procedure that makes large breasts smaller. It keeps the natural shape of the breast and nipple/areola (small area around the nipple). During surgery, the surgeon removes extra breast tissue in a specific pattern. This pattern preserves the nipple/areola and puts the breast tissue into a more appropriate position on the chest wall for the smaller breast size.

Who Needs Breast Reduction Surgery?

Breast reduction surgery is helpful if large breasts cause problems such as: 

  • ongoing upper and mid-back pain
  • uncomfortable dents on the shoulders from bra strap pressure
  • rashes under or between breasts from moisture trapping
  • hunched posture
  • breast pain when active

Most people who look into breast reduction surgery do so because of back pain.

Is Breast Reduction Surgery Right for Me?

Doctors usually will consider breast reduction surgery for someone who has problems due to large breasts that last for more than a year. In teens, it’s also important that the breast size stay the same for at least a year. 

Most insurance companies want to see that other treatments have been tried before they will approve surgery. These include:

  • the use of the right kind of supportive bra
  • a trial of physical therapy to help reduce back pain
  • treatment of any rashes with creams and/or powder

What Are the Risks of Breast Reduction Surgery?

There are risks with any surgery, including bleeding, infection, and problems with anesthesia.

Specific risks for breast reduction surgery include:

  • asymmetry (uneven size) of the breasts or nipples
  • numbness of one or both nipples
  • not being able to breastfeed after the surgery
  • noticeable or puckered scars
  • change in nipple shape
  • openings along the incision lines
  • stitches coming out through the incisions instead of dissolving
  • “lumps and bumps” in breast tissue from internal scars

What Should I Expect After Breast Reduction Surgery?

It takes some time to recover after breast reduction surgery. Many patients take prescription pain medicine for a few days, then over-the-counter (available without a prescription) pain medicines for a couple of weeks. Light activities such as walking can begin right after surgery. The surgeon will tell you about any activities to avoid. Most patients can return to their regular activities in about a month.

Soon after breast surgery, the chest area feels lighter and many young women notice that their clothing fits better. The breasts are swollen and firm, and they’re higher up on the chest. Over the next few months, the breasts soften and relax back into a natural position. It will take up to a year for the breasts to soften fully.

What Else Should I Know?

Someone with very large breasts might feel self-conscious about them, have trouble with how their clothes fit, or not be able to find bras with good support. 

Breast reduction often is life changing for young women. The recovery time can be a challenge, but most are happy with their decision to have surgery.

Reviewed by: Rhoda L. Powell, MD
Date Reviewed: Jun 2, 2020

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