Cosmetic Surgery Abroad - The Risks of Medical Tourism

Posted on the 31 January 2019 at 14:36

For those thinking of getting cosmetic surgery, getting it done abroad may seem like an appealing option.

By travelling abroad, people can save 40 to 80 per cent on cosmetic surgery, depending on the procedure and the country; according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS). But whilst choosing to have a procedure abroad might be an attractive option for many, it's often not as smooth sailing as it sounds and can even prove fatal.

Tragic Brit Leah Cambridge, 29, died in August 2018 after suffering complications from buttock-lift surgery in Turkey. Now, another British woman has also died after undergoing Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL) surgery. Buttock-lifts are becoming increasingly popular as women try to achieve the ´hourglass figure´ made famous by Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj et al, but experts have warned that the procedure can carry very serious complications; in fact surgeons in the UK have even been advised to stop performing this procedure until further studies are undertaken to determine why it is now the most risky of all cosmetic operations.

Of course, cosmetic surgery both in the UK and abroad carries risks, but it’s more difficult to fix complications when you are abroad, should they arise, and you can’t simply rely on the NHS to pick up the pieces when you come back home.

Here's what you need to know if you're considering cosmetic surgery outside of the UK:

Is it safer to have cosmetic surgery in the UK or abroad?

No surgery is risk-free, however, if you choose to get your surgery done in the UK, then the surgeon will be able to discuss long term aftercare and be on-hand if something goes wrong. Some overseas clinics may not provide adequate aftercare or follow up on treatments. Safety standards and regulation of cosmetic surgery clinics also vary from country to country.

The British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPAS) encourages patients to make sure they have frequent contact with their surgeon. They state, "At BAPRAS we believe that patients should be able to see the plastic surgeon that actually carried out the operations, if there are any concerns."

What are the risks involved in getting cosmetic surgery abroad?

As well as various complications that can occur during surgery, there are also risks to consider when travelling back home again after having a procedure. Flying back soon afterwards can leave you vulnerable to (DVT) Deep Vein Thrombosis (when a blood clot forms in a vein, partially or completely blocking blood flow) and a Pulmonary Embolism (when a blood vessel supplying the lung becomes blocked by a clot).

BAPRAS advises waiting five to seven days before you fly home after procedures such as breast surgery and liposuction, and seven to ten days after facial cosmetic surgery procedures or tummy-tucks. If you have to pay extra to recuperate in an overseas clinic, hospital or hotel for a week or more, then the savings you made on the surgery won’t be savings after all, and surgery in the UK would have been a better option. There is also travel insurance to consider; it's rare that a normal, holiday travel insurance policy or the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cover you in the event of something going wrong during a planned surgery, so check that you are buying full medical insurance cover before you travel. Again, this can add to all your costs.

What is medical tourism?

'Medical Tourism' is the term used to describe those travelling to another country to obtain medical treatment. Medical tourism, which covers all types of procedures including elective plastic surgery - is growing worldwide at an estimated rate of 15 to 25 per cent, according to research firm Patients Beyond Borders.

More specifically, the past few years have seen a rise in cosmetic surgery tourism, which is often sold as a package deal promising surgery and a holiday. Generally speaking, it's best to approach these kinds of holiday deals with caution. Firstly, there's the fact that vacation time and surgery just don't go together. You'll need sufficient time to recover after the procedure, which means avoiding lying in the sun, doing anything energetic or drinking alcohol - which are often the highly anticipated parts of the holiday experience.

The NHS advises avoiding 'meet-and-greet evenings' with sales-people, and instead, meeting with the surgeon who will operate on you, and not just 30 minutes before you go under the anaesthetic. Also, never pay to go a hospital you've never seen with a surgeon you've never met, without any real understanding of what the surgeon can provide, their qualifications and experience.

Where are the most popular destinations for cosmetic surgery?

Cosmetic surgery tourism is rife, and there are a variety of places patients are currently flocking to for their procedures. In Europe, popular destinations include Poland, Belgium, Spain, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Turkey. Elsewhere, cosmetic surgery is big in Brazil, Thailand, the USA and Japan.

How can I minimise the risks?

First, find out as much as possible about the procedure itself. Then, you need to thoroughly do your research into clinics in your chosen country to find out if they're regulated appropriately for their local governance (and how this compares with UK regulations and standards), if the Surgeons are fully trained and experienced in the procedure you are considering and can speak English. Check online reviews and social media to gather independent feedback on the services provided by a specific surgeon or clinic. Ask them if you can speak to anyone else in the UK who has been to them for the same procedure. You should see a surgeon for a consultation first, before you agree to surgery, so make plans for two trips – one for a consultation and one for surgery, so you have time to think about if you really want the surgery, rather than rushing with a consultation and surgery in the same trip to the country. Take someone with you, you don’t want to be on your own, in a foreign place, recovering from a surgical procedure without a friendly face to help as your advocate and be there to reassure and look after you.

Finally, consider the worst case scenario. You need to have a plan in place in case something goes wrong, including travel and emergency medical insurance arrangements. For further advice, BAPRAS has a handy checklist of things to consider before going abroad to have cosmetic surgery.

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