What is Panniculus?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

A panniculus is a flap of excess skin, fat and tissue at the bottom of the abdomen.
A panniculus is a flap of excess skin, fat and tissue at the bottom of the abdomen.

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.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to treat panniculus.
In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to treat panniculus.

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.

Being significantly overweight before surgery can be dangerous.
Being significantly overweight before surgery can be dangerous.

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.

Significant weight gain can cause panniculus.
Significant weight gain can cause panniculus.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I used to be extremely overweight. I had a very well-paying job, but because of responsibilities at home, I had no me time. I ended up overeating to comfort myself in times of stress, which were frequent.

I finally decided it was time to do something about my sad personal situation. I told my husband that I had to have an hour to myself for exercise every day, and he would have to help out around the house. When he learned about my plan to lose weight, he was happy to help.

Immediately after starting my diet and exercise routine, I opened a savings account to put aside money for the surgery I knew I would need in the future to get rid of my panniculus. If I was going to go to all the trouble of getting a new body, I wanted it to be awesome.

Within a year, I had enough money in the account for the surgery. I decided to keep losing weight for another year, though. I wanted to get all of the fat out of the way so all the doctor would have to remove would be excess skin.


@Perdido - As the uterus retracts back to its old shape, so does most of the abdomen. This won’t happen in every case, though, and your sister-in-law really needs to start exercising as soon as she can.

I started doing core strength training workouts and yoga for new moms about four weeks after having my baby. My doctor told me that since I hadn’t had any complications with the birth, my body should be ready for exercise.

This was essential in helping my body regain its muscle tone and shape. If I hadn’t exercised, I probably would still have my panniculus.


My sister-in-law has a panniculus because she gave birth three weeks ago. She has been asking everyone she knows about how to lose the extra skin, and almost everyone has told her that it will go away on its own.

Is this true? Does the panniculus just resorb into the body, or is there something she needs to do to help it along? I’m sure that right now is the best time for her to take action, because some people I know still have their panniculus years after giving birth. She is still in her twenties, and she doesn’t want to be stuck with unattractive flab for the rest of her life.


One of my coworkers has panniculus. She is severely overweight, and daily activities like walking from one side of the building to the other are difficult for her.

She recently went on a diet, and she has lost twenty pounds so far. She got motivated to lose weight when the boss called her in his office to discuss personal hygiene. The odor from her panniculus was becoming offensive, and he thought that she just wasn’t showering.

Embarrassed but not in a position to quit her job, she found a reason to stick to her diet. After she loses the fat and the skin folds are all that are left behind, she plans to have them surgically removed. It will take awhile, though, because she currently weighs about four-hundred pounds.

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