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After-Surgery Scars

By Bridget Coila ; Updated July 18, 2017

Open surgery, in which an incision is made through the skin to reach the organs being operated on, typically leaves a scar at the site of the incision. Depending on the type of surgery and the techniques used, this scar may be small or prominent. There are no current ways to completely remove a surgical scar, but there are many methods to reduce its appearance.


According to the American Academy of Dermatology, most scars have an extremely unsightly appearance at first, usually red and thick. These scars fade over time, however. Over the course of six to 18 months, a surgical scar typically fades into a thin white line. Younger people tend to have more problems with oversized scars than older people because younger skin may attempt to over-heal the area, resulting in a larger scar.


Normal surgical scars follow the standard pattern of shifting from red and thick to thin and white, but some scars develop abnormally after surgery. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery says keloid scars develop when the scar material outgrows its original boundaries, creating a thick, dark, raised area around the scar. Hypertrophic scars are similar to keloids but remain within the boundaries of the original incision, creating a thick, raised line instead of the flat, white surface that would result from a normal scarring pattern.


Sometimes complications can arise with a surgical scar, even years after the original operation. An incisional hernia is one such problem, according to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. In an incisional hernia, part of the intestines or another abdominal organ protrudes through the internal portion of a surgical scar in the abdomen. Weight gain, pregnancy or other conditions that cause an abdominal scar to stretch out and become thinner may lead to an incisional hernia.


Revision is the process of making a scar look better or less noticeable. Many methods exist to accomplish this task. Plastic surgery is one option for revision, and many scars can successfully be removed and the skin rejoined in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Other treatments for treating post-surgery scars include dermabrasion, laser resurfacing, skin grafting and using injectable fillers.


Sometimes there are alternatives to getting a scar in the first place, or ways to limit the degree of scarring. Laproscopic surgery uses miniature cameras and tools that are threaded into the body through a small incision, allowing the surgeon to create only a few small cuts for surgeries that would have required a large incision years ago. The Cleveland Clinic article, "The Forefront of Surgery, Without Scars," discusses a type of surgery called single-port surgery. The tools are sent through a single, tiny incision that may be placed in a location such as the belly button, where it leaves no scar. Other techniques involve doing surgery through natural bodily points of entry, such as the mouth.

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