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How do I know if my tummy tuck drain is infected?

A tummy tuck, also known as abdominoplasty, is a cosmetic surgical procedure that removes excess skin and fat from the abdomen and tightens the abdominal muscles. During a tummy tuck, the surgeon will make incisions and remove excess tissue before suturing the remaining skin back together.

One important part of the recovery process after a tummy tuck is caring for the surgical drains that are put in place. These drains allow fluid and blood to leave the surgical site as you heal. It is normal to have drainage from the incision sites for several days or weeks after surgery. However, an infection of the surgical drain can be a serious complication.

It is important to closely monitor your drains after surgery and know the signs of infection. Read on to learn more about how to identify an infected drain after a tummy tuck.

What is the purpose of tummy tuck drains?

After a tummy tuck, your surgeon will place one or more soft plastic surgical drains near the incision site. The drains serve a few important purposes:

– Remove fluid and blood: Drainage after surgery prevents fluid buildup and helps avoid seromas (pockets of fluid). This reduces swelling and tension on the incision.

– Monitor healing: The color and amount of drainage provides insight on how the incision is healing. Clear, yellowish, or pinkish fluid is expected.

– Prevent infection: Drains allow contaminants to leave the body and not collect internally where they could cause infection.

Signs of an infected drain

While it’s normal to have drainage after surgery, an infected drain can be identified by these signs:

Change in drainage color

Normal drainage is clear, yellowish, blood-tinged, or pink. If the liquid becomes cloudy, green, or brown, it may indicate infection.

Increase in drainage amount

There is typically a high volume of drainage immediately after surgery that then slows. If drainage increases or continues at a high rate this could signal a problem.

Foul odor

The drainage may have a slightly unpleasant smell at first but should not be foul or overpowering. A very bad odor likely means infection.

Pain or tenderness

Some discomfort around the drain area is expected. However, worsening pain, soreness, swelling, or redness at the site could indicate infection.

Fever or chills

A fever over 100.4°F, or flu-like chills and body aches, may accompany an infected drain site. This is a sign your body is fighting infection.

Leakage around drain

The area around the drain insertion site should remain dry. Any leakage of fluid indicates a poor seal that could allow bacteria in.

Break in the skin

An opening or break in the skin alongside the drain may serve as an entry point for germs. Signs of infection often follow.

Risk factors for infected drains

Certain factors can increase the risk of developing an infected drain after tummy tuck surgery:

– Diabetes or weakened immune system
– Obesity
– Smoking
– Poor nutrition and protein intake
– Failure to properly care for drains

If you have any of these risk factors, be especially vigilant about monitoring your drains for signs of infection. Proper drain care is vital.

When to call your surgeon about drainage

You should call your surgeon right away if you notice any of the following:

– Bad odor coming from drainage
– Thick, cloudy, or discolored drainage
– Increased tenderness, swelling, and redness at drain site
– Fever over 100.4°F
– Shaking chills
– Significant increase in drainage amount
– Leakage of fluid around drains

Reporting these symptoms early allows your surgeon to address a potential infection before it worsens. You may be prescribed antibiotics or have the drains removed if infected.

Treatment for an infected tummy tuck drain

If your surgeon suspects or confirms your drain site is infected, these treatments may be used:

– Antibiotics: Oral or intravenous antibiotics will be prescribed to fight the infection. Take them exactly as directed.

– Drain removal: The infected drains will likely need to be removed so the infection doesn’t spread. This is a quick office procedure.

– Incision opening: Your surgeon may open part of the incision to allow drainage of infection and place new drains.

– Wound care: Keeping the area clean and properly dressed will help resolve the infection. Follow all wound care instructions.

– Medications: Over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen can help reduce discomfort and fever.

– Time: It may take several days for the antibiotics to improve the infection and a week or more for it to fully clear.

Preventing infected drains after tummy tuck

You can help avoid infected drains by:

– Not submerging drains: Don’t take baths or swim until drains are removed. Showers are okay if drains and dressings stay dry.

– Hand hygiene: Wash hands thoroughly before handling drains to avoid introducing new bacteria.

– Following surgeon’s instructions: Carefully adhere to all your surgeon’s directions for drain care and activity restrictions to prevent complications.

– Not touching drain insertion sites: Avoid touching the area where drains enter the skin to prevent germ transfer.

– Using antibacterial soap: Use antibacterial liquid soap when showering to help reduce bacteria on the skin around the drains.

– Taking antibiotics as directed: Finish the entire course of any prescribed antibiotics to fully treat anyinfection.

– Checking for leakage: Look closely each day for any drainage leaking outside of tubes onto dressings or skin and report it promptly.

– Reporting concerns quickly: Communicate any worrisome symptoms like unusual odor or increased pain to your surgeon right away.

Recovering from an infected drain

If you develop an infected drain after abdominoplasty surgery, recovery may take longer but rest assured infection can be overcome. Follow your surgeon’s treatment plan and contact their office with any concerns. Be patient through the recovery process.

While an infected drain can set back your recovery, it does not mean you won’t still have an excellent outcome from your tummy tuck once fully healed. However, significant or recurrent infection may impact your results. Listen to your body and surgeon so infection can be diagnosed and treated promptly.

Make sure to attend all scheduled follow-up visits so your surgeon can monitor your progress and address any potential complications. With proper self-care and follow-up, you should make a full recovery.

When to seek emergency care

In most cases, a drain infection after a tummy tuck can be managed with oral antibiotics and local wound care. But if you experience any of the following, seek emergency medical care immediately:

– High fever over 101°F that refuses to come down with medication
– Redness that spreads quickly from the drain site
– Pus or foul-smelling discharge from the wound
– Extreme pain and swelling at the incision site
– Shaking and chills combined with confusion or disorientation

These symptoms may indicate a serious infection that has reached the bloodstream or abscess development. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition requiring emergency treatment.

Do not hesitate to go to an emergency room or urgent care center if you have any of the above symptoms. Rapid intervention is needed to stabilize sepsis, control the spread of infection, and prevent further complications.

When can drains be removed after tummy tuck?

Surgical drains are typically left in place for 1-4 weeks after a tummy tuck procedure. The factors that determine when they can be removed include:

– Drainage amount: Drains are generally removed when drainage drops below 30mL per day.

– Drainage color: Drainage should be light yellow, clear, pink, or blood-tinged. Cloudy or darker liquid may mean drains need to remain.

– Lumpiness: The abdomen should be smoothed out without significant lumps or indentations before drain removal.

– Signs of fluid buildup: No excessive swelling, skin tightness, or sudden increases in abdominal girth from fluid retention.

– Surgeon evaluation: Your surgeon will examine the surgical site to determine if it is healed enough for drain removal.

– Post-op timeline: Drains are often left for 1-2 weeks after surgery as standard practice depending on the extent of the procedure.

Do not remove surgical drains yourself. Your surgeon will decide when it is appropriate to take them out. This usually involves a quick, painless appointment at their office once drainage has reduced sufficiently.


Caring for your drains properly after a tummy tuck is imperative for proper healing and reducing infection risk. Monitor drainage amounts, color, and odor closely according to your surgeon’s instructions. Recognizing the signs of infection early allows prompt treatment. With appropriate care and follow-up, you can recover well from a tummy tuck even if drain infection occurs. Stay vigilant about drain sites and communicate any concerns quickly to your surgeon. This will help ensure you have an optimal outcome.