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What’s the difference between reconstructive and cosmetic procedures?

Reconstructive Surgery

The procedures a plastic surgeon will perform can fall into two main categories: reconstructive and cosmetic—each performed for different reasons. The same surgery can even be performed for reconstructive or for cosmetic purposes. It all depends on the reason for getting a particular surgery. 

  • How is reconstructive surgery done? 
  • What is the purpose of reconstructive surgery? 
  • What is the difference between cosmetic and reconstructive surgery?

Reconstructive surgery 

Reconstructive surgery involves fixing a defect that was either present at birth or developed later due to injury or disease. It usually involves reshaping a part of the body to help it look how that part of the body would typically look. Some examples of these procedures would be otoplasty to correct misshapen ears, cleft lip repair, septoplasty to correct breathing issues due to the structure of the nose, and plastic surgery to repair the appearance of the skin after burn injuries.

Reconstructive surgery is often covered, at least in part, by insurance. That all depends on whether or not (and to what degree) your quality of life is affected by the particular issue at hand. For example, upper blepharoplasty, a surgery used to correct droopy upper eyelids, may be covered by insurance if the severity of the dropping affects your ability to see.

Cosmetic procedures

Cosmetic procedures involve surgery to change the shape or size of a body part for purely cosmetic reasons. Some examples include a rhinoplasty done to change the appearance of the nose (where there is no obstruction to breathing or other structural issues), facial lifts such as a brow lift or facelift, liposuction to remove excess fat from the body or breast augmentation. 

What about combined procedures?

Sometimes, a surgical procedure may involve both reconstructive and cosmetic aspects. One example would be a brow lift surgery where an upper blepharoplasty to enhance vision is also performed. The brow lift is purely cosmetic; it lifts the facial features above the brows, reducing wrinkles, fine lines, and loose skin. Often procedures in the same area can be combined, so someone also needing a blepharoplasty (lifting the upper eyelids so that they’re not sagging and blocking the patient’s field of vision) may opt to do it at the same time. 

Another example would be a rhinoplasty in which the patient is having trouble breathing and needs reconstructive surgery to help correct a misalignment of the nose due to injury, but also wants to reshape the tip of the nose (which is considered cosmetic). In cases like this, insurance may cover the medically necessary portion, while the correction of the tip will need to be paid for fully out of pocket. 

If you’re considering surgery and are unsure if your case falls under the category of reconstructive surgery, see Dr. Edmund Fisher. In addition to being a board-certified plastic surgeon, he is also a board-certified ear, nose, and throat specialist so he can provide you with his expert opinion on what is necessary and how he can help. 

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