The dangers of plastic surgery

Come festive or wedding seasons, not only are shopping malls flooded with customers, doctors too see patients of a certain kind trickling in - those who turn up with infected, distorted or deformed body parts.

These patients are not accident victims, but those who wanted to look stunning for the season, and sought beauty or cosmetic procedures from fly-by-night beauty operators promising exceptional beauty, but ended up in tragedy, with some requiring mastectomy or reconstructive surgery.

Society for Anti-Aging, Aesthetic and Regenerative Medicine Malaysia president Dr Selvaraj Y Subramaniam says that it is common to find patients turning up to his clinic seeking treatment after botched-up procedures. They tell him that these beauty operators had administered substance purportedly to be silicone injections into face, breast, buttock or silicon implant for penis enlargement.

"Clinical findings revealed that they ended up with granulations, dimpling, tennis-ball feel to the breast, or multiple ulcerations in the breast, especially in diabetic patients," says Dr Selvaraj in an email interview.

Some who have injections done around the eyes develop narrowing of eyes and reduced visual fields, while others end up with migration of the substance injected to other parts of the face, leaving ugly swellings, he says.

Others get infected with chronic ulceration, have chronic granulations and chronic excretion of white or yellowish substances from the injection site, he says.

Dr Selvaraj says that infected sites are difficult to treat, and over time, it heals with deformity. "Penis deformity is common. Some have a lumpy hard feel at the base of the penis, with chronic ulcers."

On average, two patients of botched beauty procedures turn up at his clinic every three months, and this is just the tip of the iceberg, he says.

He refers these patients to plastic surgeons if mastectomy and reconstruction have to be done, but due to the cost of such procedures, most of them just live with the deformity.

Recently, the MCA Public Services and Complaints Department highlighted that a 39-year-old woman had second degree burns on her private parts after going through a pubic hair removal treatment.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai recently announced that guidelines on cosmetic procedures/surgeries are being drawn up to protect consumers, and this will be ready soon.

While doctors are required to adhere to the guidelines, it also has indirect impact on beauty operators who do not fall under the Ministry's jurisdiction.

Dr Selvaraj says that almost all of his patients did not lodge complaints with the authorities due to embarrassment.

A patient, who only wants to be identified as Ros, 50, says that she had gone for a certain injection under the eye in 2008, to reduce wrinkles, but after three treatments, the lines reduced but her right eye became smaller and appeared like slits, while her face became swollen.

"I regret what I did," says Ros, a senior executive in a company, who sought the treatment from a beauty consultant in a private home.

Until today, the filler still moves laterally below the injected eye and she has never revealed to her family members the reason for the swelling on her face despite them enquiring about it.

She has sought a doctor's advice, but the doctor could not remove the filler. He did touch up work for her to reduce the swelling.

The Tribunal for Consumer Claims chairman Reihana Abd Razak says that people may be embarrassed about their conditions, but they should know their rights as consumers.

Reihana said that the number of beauty-related botched-up cases filed with the tribunal increased from 74 in 2005 to 445 last year, but from January to April this year, 90 cases were filed, indicating a downward trend after the tribunal carried out campaigns to educate people their rights.

The cases filed with the tribunal are less serious cases mainly related to acne, pigmentation and bleaching treatments while consumers would bring more severe cases to civil court, she says.

Dr Selvaraj says that most of his patients are usually women aged 25 to 50, mainly married.

"Some women are worried about their husbands leaving them while some men, especially those in their 40s, want bigger penises to satisfy their wives," he says.

"Sometimes, the issue is actually marital problems and patients should seek counselling to resolve the issue and not think that it can be solved by a firmer or larger breast or penis," he adds.

Dr Selvaraj advises people to be happy with themselves.

"Self acceptance is the best, but if correction has to be done, seek proper advice from trained doctors," he advises.

"If money is the issue, save money and do it when the time is right. Don't rush," he adds.

He says that it is important for people to see a doctor to know the benefits and risks of a certain procedure as this will enable them to make an informed decision and be properly monitored before and during a procedure if they choose to go ahead with it.

"Any procedure that deals with chemicals and has risk is best discussed with a doctor," he says.

The National Consumer Complaints Centre (NCCC) reveals that it received 69 complaints last year and they were mainly cases such as skin care (facial) allergies and scarring, scalp itchiness and redness, while others complained that they did not lose any weight in slimming programmes.

NCCC senior manager M. Matheevani says that whatever people want to do to enhance beauty, they should first consult a doctor.

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