Reconstructive plastic surgery is a form of plastic surgery which is performed with the purpose of normalizing a patient's appearance. It may be used to modify or repair congenital birth defects such as cleft lips and palates, or to help a patient recover from a catastrophic accident or injury. In some cases, reconstructive plastic surgery is purely cosmetic in nature, with the goal of making the patient feel more comfortable in society, while in other instances, it may be medically necessary.
Doctors who pursue plastic surgery as a career can often perform both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, but they may choose to focus on one or the other. The two disciplines are markedly different, with reconstructive plastic surgery sometimes placing high demands on the surgeon. In the case of a patient with severely deformed facial structures, for example, the doctor may need to essentially rebuild the face, developing special techniques along the way to address the patient's individual case.
In the case of people with birth defects, reconstructive plastic surgery is often performed routinely in the West, which means that birth defects are usually corrected in young childhood, and it is unusual to see an adult with severe correctable physical birth defects. In other regions of the world, the technology or funds for reconstructive plastic surgery may not be available, and adults with visible birth defects are more common. Several charitable organizations travel to developing nations with teams of skilled surgeons who perform reconstructive plastic surgery for free to improve quality of life for people with birth defects.
Patients who have experienced accidents, severe injuries, and other incidents may require reconstructive plastic surgery for comfort and part of their recovery. Patients with severe burns, for example, often need reconstructive plastic surgery on their faces and extremities to normalize their appearance and to restore some functions to their bodies. Reconstructive plastic surgery may also be used for things like restoring the appearance of breasts after a mastectomy, allowing breast cancer patients the option to replace their missing breasts.
Most reconstructive procedures are elective, which means that the patient and doctor schedule them ahead of time. However, reconstructive surgeons must also be able to work in emergency situations. Oculoplastics specialists, for example, may be called in to reconstruct the eye socket after someone has experienced severe eye trauma. Rapid action by a reconstructive plastic surgeon can limit scarring and promote rapid healing, with many surgeons preferring to work as quickly as possible, before the body has had a chance to severely scar around the site of a catastrophic injury.