Panniculus is a medical term to describe a layer or membrane of tissue. This term is often used specifically in discussions of very large layers of lower abdominal fat, which may be separated by grade to better describe the extent of the fat and its impact on the patient. In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery because panniculus can pose health risks. Other patients may opt for surgical treatment for aesthetic reasons.
In terms like “panniculus adiposus,” the term refers simply to a layer of regular fatty tissue. All animals have deposits of fat, allowing them to store energy and absorb physical impacts. These deposits can become a problem if they grow especially pronounced. In the case of abdominal fat, it can start to grow over and beyond the abdomen, eventually covering the genitals and potentially extending even further, passing the knees. This can cause considerable discomfort for the patient.
One risk with panniculus is the tendency to form skin folds. These tend to be dark, moist, and warm, making them an ideal breeding ground for organisms like bacteria and fungi. Patients can develop severe skin infections, and may experience large ulcerations and lesions from unchecked growth of microorganisms. In addition to causing an unpleasant odor, this will expose patients to risks like septicemia, where an infection enters the bloodstream and can potentially cause multiple organs to fail.
The weight of panniculus can also distort a patient's posture and may cause strain on the back. Patients and doctors may also believe there is a dangerous growth like a tumor inside. It can be hard to perform diagnostic tests because the fatty tissue makes it difficult to identify structures inside the panniculus, and a patient may need invasive testing to find out more about what is happening inside.
Patients sometimes have a mild panniculus after pregnancy, until the body recovers and the skin rebounds, tightening back up over the lower abdomen. Major weight loss can also leave behind pockets of skin and loose fat, and patients may need surgery to remove skin folds once their weight stabilizes. This will make them feel more comfortable, reduce the risks of infection, and allow the natural contours of their bodies to emerge. Significant weight gain can also cause panniculus, and a surgeon may ask a patient to lose weight before performing surgery to remove the excess tissue, as being significantly overweight can be dangerous in surgery.
What Causes Panniculus?
Panniculus is characterized by a sheet of tissue in the lower abdominal area. Various weight-related factors cause the layer of tissue. It may be a result of obesity, pregnancy, or weight loss. In severe cases, the layer of fat may suspend past the abdomen to the knees or lower.
Common causes of panniculus are discussed below:
In obesity, panniculus may result from the excess weight resulting from the condition. The excess weight culminates in a layer of fatty tissue forming in the abdominal region.
The subcutaneous fat usually overhangs, giving the appearance of swelling in the body tissues, which could lead to reduced mobility. As a result, the victim could eventually become bedridden as they lose the ability to move around freely.
Panniculus induced by pregnancy and weight loss are similar; they are characterized by extra skin hanging loosely and covering the genitalia or reaching up to the knees in some instances. In most cases, the abdomen retracts as the uterus regains shape after giving birth.
However, in some instances, the physical transition after giving birth creates a pocket of skin in the abdomen, causing panniculus.
The same goes for weight loss. As you gain weight, the skin grows to accommodate the extra fat and forms cellulite which deepens in appearance with weight gain and age. When you lose the extra weight, the excess skin forms a paunch known as the panniculus.
With weight loss, the pockets of skin form at the abdomen and atypical body parts such as the neck, legs, ankles, and breasts.
Health Risks of Panniculus?
Panniculus is accompanied by various physical impediments that culminate in health risks. The health risks are outlined below:
The layer of fat or extra-abdominal skin makes it difficult to move around and conduct daily activities. As a result, panniculus patients are often bedridden due to mobility difficulties, increasing their chances of mortality.
The extra-abdominal weight could also lead to back problems as it distorts the patient’s posture.
Increased Microbial Infection Risks
Skin folds associated with panniculus also pose a significant health risk. The pockets of skin are an ideal breeding ground for disease-causing pathogens such as bacteria and fungi. These microorganisms cause a pungent smell on skin folds and expose the patient to the risk of sepsis, which may cause tissue and body organ damage.
The uncontrolled growth of microorganisms in areas affected by panniculus can also lead to skin-related problems. Patients often develop intertriginous dermatitis, an inflammatory skin disease caused by bacterial infections in the skin folds. The condition is usually painful and shows mild redness accompanied by skin erosion and crusting.
To avoid these health risks, panniculus patients must diligently care for and monitor the affected areas. They need to control the moisture on the skin folds to prevent contamination and the growth of microorganisms.
Patients can control moisture by avoiding tight clothing, which may induce sweating, showering using pH-balanced soap, and cleaning the pouches regularly with disposable wipes. Such measures mitigate contamination.
How to Get Rid of Panniculus
If you have panniculus, you can have it surgically removed through an operation known as panniculectomy. The process involves the removal of the extra skin and adipose tissue. However, the procedure is not a weight loss solution.
Obese patients suffering from panniculus are usually required to conduct weight loss exercises before being operated on.
Panniculectomy aims to slim down the tummy by eliminating fat deposits. If the protruding belly results from muscle laxity, the patients may need a tummy tuck to restore the abdomen shape.
Liposuction may sometimes be recommended for fine-tuning and getting rid of additional fats. Nonetheless, liposuction is not enough to get rid of panniculus. It is a follow-up procedure to panniculectomy.
Panniculectomy surgery effectively rids patients of health risks, increases their mobility, and improves their quality of life. It also has cosmetic benefits as it enhances the appearance of the patient's abdomen and areas affected by skin folds. However, the surgery is associated with some complications.
Complications Associated with Panniculectomy
Although a panniculectomy is an effective way to get rid of panniculus, most patients experience some discomfort after the procedure. They may feel discomfort when moving as the motion strains the repaired area. Similarly, they may experience complications such as:
- Excessive bleeding
- Wound infections
- Seroma formation
- Adipose tissue necrosis
Nonetheless, the complications are manageable, and patients typically recover fully from the procedure.