Liposuction

Featured Articles By

Dennis Hurwitz, MD

updated July 24th, 2014

Trying to eliminate pockets of excess fat that accumulate on the abdomen, flanks, thighs, and other areas of the body can be a frustrating process. Often, diet and exercise on their own are just not sufficient to the task. In such cases, many people who want to achieve more aesthetically pleasing body contours turn to liposuction, which has been one of the most popular plastic surgery techniques for more than three decades now. This safe, proven procedure has allowed millions of patients to improve their figures through the precise targeting and removal of isolated deposits of fat. Often combined with other plastic surgery procedures such as abdominoplasty ("tummy tuck" surgery) and breast augmentation, liposuction is a potentially ideal solution for anyone looking to refine and rejuvenate their contours.

Candidacy

Before patients are permitted to undergo liposuction, their candidacy must first be determined by a qualified plastic surgeon. The best candidate is someone who is in excellent health, is within 25 pounds of his or her ideal body weight, and has deposits of fat that have not responded to diet or exercise. Men and women over the age of 18 who meet the necessary health qualifications may be great candidates for liposuction.

People who are generally not good candidates for liposuction include:

  • Women who are pregnant or nursing
  • Individuals with health problems that could interfere with their healing
  • People who are taking blood-thinning medications, unless they are able to discontinue use of these medications in the weeks leading up to and following surgery
  • People who are allergic to lidocaine, which is used in the procedure

Teens and Liposuction

There have been cases of children as young as 12 undergoing liposuction. While this is uncommon, there are rare instances in which a doctor may perform liposuction on a teen, especially after major weight loss that may have left one or two lingering bulges of fat. Generally, a doctor will assess a teenager's emotional maturity and self-esteem before agreeing to perform liposuction. The majority of these patients choose to have one problem area contoured to help with self-esteem issues. Some teens are affected by excess fat under the chin, in the calves, hips, or other areas, and it can be a source of embarrassment and ridicule among peers. In these cases, liposuction can eliminate this fat and produce a more sculpted, toned appearance.

Adults

While there is no upper age limit for patients who want to have liposuction, there are risks associated with any type of surgery. Therefore, patients should be in basically good health in order to safely undergo the procedure. Patients who suffer from serious medical conditions or who take certain medications may not be good candidates for liposuction. Consult with your primary care physician and plastic surgeon to find out whether you are an appropriate candidate for this procedure. Because liposuction removes fat but does not tighten skin, patients with good skin elasticity tend to experience the most aesthetically pleasing results. Older patients typically have less supple skin than younger patients.

Realistic Expectations

Liposuction is not a weight loss procedure, and it cannot eliminate stretch marks and cellulite from the skin. The treatment can only remove small, localized concentrations of fat. In most cases, ten pounds of fat or less will be removed from the treated area. The ideal liposuction candidate is already close to or at a healthy weight but is interested in subtle body contouring.

Medical Problems

Certain health conditions may prevent patients from being suitable liposuction candidates. People with chronic ailments such as diabetes and high blood pressure are more likely to achieve less-than-desirable aesthetic results. Individuals who have compromised immune systems and those who suffer from diabetes, poor blood circulation, heart disease, or lung disease should not undergo liposuction, as they could suffer serious health complications. If patients have recently had another surgery in the area they would like to treat, they should wait until the area has healed before considering liposuction.

View Liposuction Before & After Photos

Cost

Because liposuction is tailored to meet each person's individual needs, the exact cost of liposuction can vary significantly from patient to patient. In most cases, the final cost will fall between $1,500 and $7,500.

When determining the cost of treatment, there are a number of considerations to take into account. These include:

  • The treatment area - Typically, larger areas such as the abdomen or back will cost more than smaller areas. However, costs can also be higher if a patient wishes to treat a particularly difficult area, such as the chin or cheeks.
  • Multiple treatment areas - Liposuction costs will be higher if a patient wants to enhance several parts of his or her body.
  • Body type - Because the final price is partially determined by the amount of fat removed, the treatment may cost more for larger patients.
  • The procedure used - Advanced methods such as ultrasound or laser assisted liposuction typically costs more than traditional procedures.
  • The doctor - A highly experienced doctor with a reputation for excellence may charge more than a less knowledgeable or respected doctor.
  • The geographic area - Like most things, liposuction costs will vary depending on where a patient lives. It may cost more in a major metropolitan area than in a smaller town.

Read Dennis Hurwitz, MD's Take:Factors that Affect the Cost of Liposuction

If, like many others, you have decided to take an aggressive stance against stubborn fat deposits, it is most important to have an intimate understanding of the different factors that can influence the cost of treatment, rather than a hard number used to gauge any estimates you gather. Read Full Article

Additional Fees

In addition to the plastic surgeon's basic fee for performing liposuction, the total cost of the procedure may include:

  • Anesthesia fees
  • Operating room or surgical center fees
  • Pretreatment lab work
  • Post-surgical medications
  • Post-surgical compression bandages or garments
  • Other costs

Patients should ask their doctors whether these fees are included in their full treatment estimates.

An Investment in the Future

While cost is obviously an important consideration when it comes to liposuction, it is not the most important one. Patients should remember that their health and cosmetic satisfaction are ultimately the top priorities. Choosing an inexperienced doctor to save some money could cost far more in the long run if they require a corrective procedure or if they develop serious health complications.

Payment

Because liposuction is considered an elective procedure, it is not covered by most insurance policies. Fortunately, this treatment typically costs far less than more invasive plastic surgery procedures, and many surgeons offer flexible financing options that can make liposuction an affordable option.

In-House Financing

Most doctors accept cash, checks, and most major credit cards. Many practices also offer their own financing options, including fixed and no-interest plans with approved credit. Some also offer discounts if patients pay for their procedure in full at the time of treatment. Patients should ask their doctors about these options at their initial consultations. After they have chosen their physician, the administrative team will often assist with the financing, helping patients to choose the right option for their budgets.

Third-party Financing

Third-party medical financing programs, such as CareCredit®, have become an increasingly popular choice. Medical credit cards work like traditional credit cards, but they are designed specifically for elective medical procedures and other treatments not covered by conventional insurance policies. Often, these credit cards offer fixed and even no-interest repayment plans. These cards involve a simple application, and typically the doctor's administrative team can assist patients in this process. Many financing companies also have an online calculator that allows individuals to determine their monthly payments and find a plan that meets their financial needs.

How to Choose a Surgeon

Choosing the right surgeon is the most important thing you can do when you are preparing for liposuction. Although this procedure is extremely safe, as with all surgical treatments, there are some risks, so it is important to find a doctor with an exceptional record of safety and success. Additionally, the results of your liposuction could last for decades, so you should choose a doctor who will give you the look you desire. With so many doctors offering liposuction, selecting the right one can seem like a daunting task. However, there are certain things that can make your decision easier.

Certifications and Affiliations

Technically, any licensed doctor can perform liposuction, but not all doctors offer the same degree of expertise. For example, you would not want a podiatrist performing your cosmetic procedure. For your safety and ultimate satisfaction, you should always choose a physician who is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. To receive this certification, a doctor must have had three to five years of medical training with two to three of them focused on cosmetic surgery. Additionally, doctors must pursue ongoing education to maintain their certification.

You should also seek out a cosmetic surgeon who has hospital privileges - even if he or she performs liposuction in an outpatient surgical center. Because doctors must meet certain standards in order to gain these privileges, they are good indications that a doctor has good ethics and follows proper safety protocol.

Experience

It is important to choose a doctor who has performed a number of liposuction procedures with good results. Even if a plastic surgeon has a great reputation for tummy tucks or facelifts, if he has firsthand knowledge of liposuction, he is probably not the right choice for your treatment. It is also advantageous to choose a doctor who is trained in dealing with surgical complications. Although the likelihood that you will experience adverse effects is low, selecting a doctor with specialized training in this area can minimize your risks even further.

Conversely, you should check to see if the doctor in question has a clean record. Each state medical board is obliged to provide all relevant information to potential patients. By accessing your state's records, you can check to see if your doctor has had any malpractice suits or disciplinary actions taken against him.

Past Results

Most doctors have pictures of past procedures available to view online or in the office. Take a good look at these pictures and decide if the results are satisfactory. Be wary of doctors who provide few pictures and those whose images are so poor that it is difficult to determine the quality of the work. You should also be concerned if a doctor's photos are all taken from the same angle, as this can obscure ill effects, such as ripples or poor contouring.

Procedures Offered

Before choosing your surgeon, you should do a bit of research about the different types of liposuction available. If you know other people who have had liposuction, you should ask them about the method their doctors used and how they felt about the treatment. That way, if you are interested in a particular technique or technology, you can find a doctor who provides the treatment you desire.

Surgical Center Accreditations

If you are considering a doctor who performs liposuction in a non-hospital surgical center, you should make sure the facility is certified by the American Associations for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Centers. To gain this accreditation, a center must show that it adheres to the proper safety and surgical standards.

Bedside Manner

When you choose a friendly doctor with whom you feel at ease, you are more likely to be satisfied with the final results of your treatment. Select a doctor who is generous with her time, answers your questions, and designs a treatment plan to meet your specific needs and concerns. At the same time, however, you should never choose a doctor who pressures you to undergo more treatment than you want or who recommends removing an excessive amount of fat cells.

The Initial Consultation

To prepare for liposuction surgery, your doctor will require you to meet for an in-depth planning session. During the meeting, you will discuss the entire procedure, its risks and side effects, and all steps you need to take prior to the operation. Your doctor will give you details about the kind of anesthesia he or she will use, the type of facility where the liposuction procedure will take place, the costs involved, and any medications or supplies you will need to pick up beforehand. The doctor will also explain the different types of liposuction he or she offers, and together you can determine the optimal treatment for your health needs and aesthetic goals. It is important to be as thorough as possible when explaining your objectives to your doctor, as this will help him or her create a treatment plan that is tailored specifically for you.

Protecting Your Health

You and your doctor will also discuss your medical history and lifestyle to determine your risk during liposuction surgery. You will be asked about the drugs you are currently taking (prescription, over the counter, recreational, or herbal supplements), whether or not you smoke or take oral contraceptives, and any medical conditions you may have. It is crucial that you are honest with your doctor about any drugs you are taking, as this can greatly affect the outcome of your surgery.

Remember: this is your opportunity to ask any lingering questions you may have, or to express your anxieties or concerns about liposuction.

Liposuction Techniques

There are several different manual techniques that a surgeon can use to eliminate fat. At your consultation, the doctor will help you choose the right one for your needs. Liposuction procedures are divided into two primary types: manual liposuction and laser liposuction.

Manual Techniques

Although manual liposuction does not utilize lasers, these treatments still use cutting-edge technology to minimize risks and provide stunning results. Manual options include:

  • Traditional Liposuction: In traditional liposuction, the surgeon uses a thin tube called a cannula, connected to a powerful suction pump. After inserting the cannula through a small incision, the plastic surgeon helps break up the fat by manipulating the cannula and injecting fluid into the area. Although it does carry some risks, traditional liposuction is very effective in taking out fat, and it is still one of the most popular forms of the procedure.
  • Tumescent Liposuction : Tumescent liposuction is similar to traditional liposuction, but experts often hail its innovative use of medication and reduced risks for complications. During tumescent liposuction, the doctor will inject a special solution (a mixture of salt solution, lidocaine, and epinephrine) into the layer of fat. The amount of fluid is usually measured at three times that of the fat being removed. The solution swells the fat cells, making them easier to isolate and remove. It also shrinks blood vessels, and because it contains local anesthesia, it can help ease discomfort without the risks associated with general anesthesia. Any minimal risks involve how much of the solution is injected, and how much lidocaine it contains.
  • Super-wet Liposuction: Super-wet liposuction is a variation of the tumescent technique that uses less fluid injection. The amount of fluid is usually equal to the amount of fat being removed. General anesthetic is required for this type of liposuction.
  • Ultrasonic Liposuction : This popular form of liposuction uses a specialized cannula that emits ultrasonic sound waves into the fat deposits to liquefy fat cells and make them easier to remove. By utilizing ultrasound technology, the doctor can remove larger and denser fat deposits, and he or she can tighten the surrounding skin. However, there is a greater risk of burns and scarring due to the heat from the ultrasound waves.
  • LipoSelection® : This specialized form of liposuction, developed by VASER®, emulsifies fat cells with ultrasound and breaks them up even further with the LipoSelection probe. The doctor can then easily remove the fat with liposuction tubes, leaving the surrounding blood vessels, nerves and other tissue virtually unaffected. This technique involves less discomfort and bruising than most other types of liposuction, but it does cost a bit more than other forms of manual liposuction.
  • Power Assisted Liposuction : By employing a cannula that has a vibrating tip, surgeons are able to break up fat cells for easier removal. Power assisted liposuction also allows for more fat removal, smaller incisions, and a reduced recovery time. This procedure is quite safe since the cannula can be moved with smaller, more exact movements. In some cases, however, patients may have looser skin than they desired.

Types of Laser Liposuction

Advanced surgical lasers can loosen fat cells and make them easier to remove. Although they are typically more expensive than manual liposuction techniques, many patients feel that these procedures are worth the extra cost, since they typically enjoy less discomfort and a faster recovery time. Laser liposuction procedures include:

  • CoolLipoTM : This minimally invasive technique is designed for sensitive areas like the neck, jowls, arms, and underneath the chin. CoolLipoTM also tightens skin with minimal bruising and utilizes only local anesthetic.
  • SlimLipo™ : SlimLipo™ lasers melt the fat cells before they are removed, reducing the discomfort and swelling associated with traditional liposuction. Some patients can even go to work the day after the procedure.
  • SmartLipoTM : This technique creates minimal scarring and is used for fine tuning, removing only up to eight pounds of fat at a time. As with SlimLipo, patients can often return to work a day or two after their procedures.
  • Abdominal Etching: This specialized form of liposuction is designed to enhance the abdominal muscles and give patients a desirable set of "six-pack abs." The surgeon will first outline the muscles and then the thin layer of fat that can obscure these muscles. He or she may use traditional, ultrasound, or laser assisted techniques to perform this minimal recovery treatment.

Treatable Areas of the Body

Liposuction is not intended as a weight loss treatment. Rather, it is most effective and beneficial when a doctor uses it to contour a patient's overall figure by removing pockets of fat in specific areas. Liposuction can be very useful when performed on areas such as the abdomen, flanks, hips, thigh area, buttocks, arms, and breasts.

Liposuction of the Abdomen

Liposuction is very effective for shaping the abdominal area in men and women. The lower abdomen in particular tends to be resistant to diet and exercise, making even the most fit and active individuals insecure about their appearance. Pregnancy and cesarean births can have a disfiguring effect on the lower abdomen, which diet and exercise cannot correct. Most abdominal fat is located directly beneath the skin and can easily be removed through liposuction procedures. However, fat that is located deep in the abdomen (between the intestines) cannot be removed with liposuction because of the increased risk of severe complications. Abdominal liposuction may be performed in conjunction with a tummy tuck.

Liposuction of the Flanks

Male flanks are located just above the belt line on the sides and back. Liposuction can greatly improve the appearance of flanks and reduce the amount of fat that bulges over the belt. Liposuction in females addresses the flanks that are located just under the bra line on the sides and back.

Liposuction of the flanks should be done under local anesthetic, so that the patient can roll over and allow the surgeon access to the back. It is dangerous to roll a patient who is under general anesthesia because the movement can interfere with the placement of the breathing tube. Liposuction of the flanks may be performed with a body lift.

Liposuction of the Hips

Liposuction of the hips is generally successful in creating a more contoured figure. This type of liposuction is usually performed on women, as men are not as susceptible to retaining fat deposits in this area. Patients who undergo liposuction to improve the appearance of the hips may require additional procedures to attain the desired contour. The procedure is usually performed under general anesthesia. Liposuction of the hips may be performed with an extended tummy tuck.

Liposuction of the Thighs

Liposuction of the entire thigh (circumferential liposuction) is not recommended due to an increase in swelling and lengthened recovery time. Rather, liposuction should be performed in a series of surgeries spaced about one month apart. Focusing the procedure on one specific area of the hips allows the lymphatic tissue to drain excess fluids quickly and evenly throughout the thigh, yielding more desirable results in a shorter amount of time. Liposuction of the thighs may be performed with thigh lift surgery.

Liposuction of the Buttocks

It is important to remember when considering liposuction that shaping the buttocks is more important than reducing the size. Excess removal of fatty tissue in the buttocks can result in an asymmetrical, lumpy, or sagging appearance. The buttocks are important in the overall aesthetic appearance of the body. Surgeons should approach liposuction of the buttocks with the subtle touch of an artist, and should always use a micro-cannula, not more than three millimeters (1/8 inch) in diameter.

Liposuction of the Arms

Liposuction of the arms has a high rate of patient satisfaction. This treatment yields a slimmer appearance that can give the rest of the body a more contoured look. Liposuction of the arms may be performed with arm lift surgery.

Liposuction of the Breasts

If a woman has enlarged breasts, they can cause back pain, neck pain, headaches, and poor self-esteem. Liposuction is a more effective and less invasive method of breast reduction than other forms of breast reduction surgery. Using liposuction to remove excess fat has a natural lifting effect on the breast because there is less volume weighing it down.

Liposuction of Male Breasts

Liposuction can also be used as a form of breast reduction in men, but several important factors must be considered first. The surgeon must determine whether the excess tissue in the breast is fatty or glandular. If the breast is primarily fatty tissue, then liposuction is an excellent method for reducing the size and improving the appearance of the chest.

If a man's breasts are enlarged with glandular tissue, liposuction is not an option and other hormonal or medication therapies should be pursued. If the breasts are asymmetrical or oddly shaped, the patient should be examined for possible tumors prior to any surgical intervention. A mammogram is the most effective method for detecting tumors and the possible presence of male breast cancer. After proper testing, a physician can help a patient determine the best course of action.

Face, Neck, and Chin Liposuction

Facial liposuction removes fatty deposits from specific areas of the face, such as the chin, neck, and jowls. Facial liposuction rids patients of these excess fat deposits, giving them a more youthful appearance. A safe procedure with dramatic results, facial liposuction has helped thousands of people look and feel younger and more attractive.

Facial liposuction is most often performed with a micro-cannula using a tumescent technique. In some cases, liposuction of the chin, neck, and jowls, as well as other facial liposuction procedures, can have better results in these problem areas than other surgical techniques. Liposuction can also be more desirable because it minimizes scarring when compared to other type of facial enhancement. This treatment is usually performed on or below the chin and jaw line to reduce the appearance of sagging skin in the neck, a double-chin, or hanging jowls.

Before the Procedure

Though liposuction has become a common procedure for anyone wishing to eliminate stubborn deposits of fat that are unresponsive to diet or exercise, it is important to remember that liposuction is still surgery. Prospective patients can eliminate much of the anxiety associated with surgery by learning the basics of the process beforehand.

Two Weeks Prior to Liposuction Surgery

Two weeks prior to your liposuction surgery you should stop taking all forms of aspirin, as well as any medication and vitamins that could interfere with your blood's clotting ability. If you smoke, you should attempt to stop for at least two weeks before liposuction.

The Day before the Liposuction Procedure

Be sure to properly prepare for liposuction surgery by packing loose and comfortable clothing, getting adequate sleep the night before, and arranging a ride home.

The Day of Liposuction Surgery

If you are undergoing general anesthesia, you should not eat or drink anything for at least six hours before surgery. This prevents you from becoming nauseous while you are sedated. When you arrive for liposuction surgery, you will be asked to sign a consent form indicating that you understand the risks, benefits, possible outcomes, and all liposuction alternatives prior to the procedure. Although the methods required to prepare for liposuction can vary doctor to doctor, your physician will likely draw on your skin to mark the areas to be treated, take a "before" picture to compare with your results after liposuction, and provide you with a dressing gown to change into before surgery.

The Procedure

The concept of liposuction surgery may seem simple, but, as with any type of surgery, the process is actually quite complex. A skilled physician will be well trained in all aspects of the liposuction procedure, and will be able to explain the process to you in as much detail as you wish. Of course, each procedure can vary significantly, depending on the treatment area and the type of liposuction you select. However, most procedures follow the same basic outline:

Anesthesia

The liposuction procedure can be performed using local or general anesthesia. The term anesthesia simply means "without pain," and the difference between local and general anesthesia is how much of the process you will be aware of. In most liposuction techniques, the process itself involves the injection of a numbing solution. With local anesthesia, your doctor will only numb the area of your body being targeted, and you will be conscious during the entire liposuction surgery. General anesthesia can be administered either as a gas or through a needle injection, and will put you to sleep for the duration of the operation. Once you awaken, you will still be numb in the area of the body that has been treated, and will feel little or no pain. At your initial consultation, you doctor will help you choose the right type

Creating the Incisions

After administering anesthesia and, in some cases, injecting fluids, the next step in liposuction surgery is to create tiny incisions in the area of the body where fat deposits will be removed. These incisions are usually quite small, ranging from a quarter to a third of an inch.

Fat Removal

Next, your surgeon will insert a thin vacuum tube, called a cannula, through the incision and into the deep fat layer. Your surgeon will move the cannula back and forth to break up the fat cells, and, with the help of an attached syringe or vacuum pump, suction them out. Because a significant amount of blood and other bodily fluids are removed along with the fat, you will receive replacement fluids intravenously during and after the liposuction procedure. Of course, this part of the procedure can vary somewhat, depending on the type of liposuction you select.

Closing the Incisions

Depending on the preference of your physician, your incisions can either be closed with a few stitches or left open. Some doctors prefer to keep the incisions open to reduce the amount of bruising and swelling that can take place after liposuction surgery.

Combining Liposuction with Other Procedures

Doctors often use liposuction in conjunction with other procedures to provide more comprehensive, pleasing results. If patients are looking for more dramatic enhancement, they should discuss these goals with their doctors at their initial consultation.

Body Contouring

Many plastic surgeons use liposuction during various body contouring procedures. By removing excess fat cells at the same time that they tighten muscles and trim away extra skin, they can give patients an even trimmer figure and a more evenly contoured shape. Doctors often include liposuction in procedures such as:

  • Tummy tucks: One of the most popular forms of body contouring, with a tummy tuck, a doctor can tighten the abdominal region via an incision running between the hipbones. In a full tummy tuck, he or she may also relocate the belly button up higher on the abdomen. By using liposuction to remove excess fat, the doctor can give patients a flatter, trimmer stomach.
  • Thigh lifts: Doctors often perform thigh lifts after patients experience massive weight loss, leaving them with excess skin around the upper legs. Because they may also have stubborn pockets of fat in this area that do not respond to diet and exercise, liposuction can be an important component of the thigh lift procedure.
  • Body lifts: Body lifts are more comprehensive treatments designed to target the abdomen, thighs, and buttocks at the same time. During this procedure, a doctor will create circumferential incisions, running along the groin, thighs, hips, and waist. In addition to tightening damaged muscles, he or she may use liposuction to remove fat from one or more of these regions.
  • Arm lifts: As they age, many patients, particularly women, are bothered by extra skin and fat on their upper arms. By combining tissue excision with liposuction, a doctor can give such patients smaller, more contoured arms that match the rest of their healthy figures.
  • Breast reduction: Although breast reduction may involve tissue removal, in some cases, liposuction alone is enough to achieve the desired results. In other cases, a doctor may combine liposuction and excision to give women more proportionate figures and reduce their discomfort.

Fat Grafting

With fat grafting, a doctor can reduce the size of one area on the body and enhance another area at the same time. To perform this procedure, the cosmetic surgeon will perform liposuction on a common trouble spot, such as the abdomen, thighs, or upper arms. Then she will purify the fat cells, spinning them in a powerful centrifuge, to separate them from the surrounding fluid. Finally, she will inject these cells in another area of the body to give patients a fuller figure or reduce the signs of aging. Fat grafting can achieve a number of affects, including:

  • Enhancing the breasts
  • Giving patients a fuller, more voluptuous rear
  • Filling in deep creases in the face, especially around the mouth and nose
  • Boosting volume in the lips

Understanding the Risks

Patients should be aware that, when liposuction is combined with other procedures, their risks for post-surgical complications will be a bit higher. Some doctors will space the procedures out to avoid these potential effects. Others may suggest removing less fat when liposuction is combined with other treatments. Although a few surgeons do not advise combining multiple procedures, most will do so, simply using extra precautions to protect their patients' safety. Although recovery time will be longer when procedures are combined, patients will only have one recovery rather than two separate procedures and two separate periods of downtime.

Recovery

After liposuction, recovery may require only a few days or several months, depending on the size of the treated area and the type of liposuction they choose to have performed.

Recovery during the First Few Weeks

Doctors advise their patients to wear compression garments for at least the first several days after liposuction to speed recovery time. After a few weeks, most patients feel comfortable enough to remove their compression garment.

Some patients report pain the day after their liposuction surgery. Usually, this discomfort is minor and can be relieved with pain medication and moderate walking. In less than a week after liposuction, most patients are able to move and walk normally, even returning to work with minimal discomfort. Patients should take showers instead of baths for about a week after liposuction. During this time, swelling, bruising, and numbness will begin to go away.

In the first several days after tumescent liposuction, the anesthetic solution from surgery drains from the incisions. This drainage is to be expected. It actually facilitates healing and reduces recovery time.

Swelling During the First Several Months

Swelling will continue to go down for several months after liposuction, and as it subsides, patients will be able to see the final results of their treatment. Recovery will take longer if the treatment area is larger than usual. In addition to swelling, the skin surrounding the treated area may seem loose, but it will tighten with time. Depending on the skin's elasticity, which is determined by age and genetics, skin should return to normal in about six months.

Liposuction patients should continue to monitor their incision sites in case of infection, and they should schedule check-up appointments with their surgeons to monitor healing. Excessive swelling can sometimes be a sign of other risks or side-effects, so it's important for individuals to communicate with their doctors to ensure everything is going smoothly.

Exercising after Liposuction

Before exercising after liposuction, patients should consult their surgeons for specific, individual guidelines for liposuction recovery. Most plastic surgeons encourage patients to begin a gentle walking routine within three to four days of their liposuction. Mild exercise protects against the formation of blood clots in the legs and other post-surgical complications.

Patients can usually begin to increase their levels of activity within two weeks of their liposuction, but they should avoid vigorous exercise for at least the first month to give the body time to heal.

Results

Full liposuction results will be visible several months after surgery. Liposuction is designed to improve the shape of your body and is not an option for significant weight loss. However, small pockets of fat that are unresponsive to exercise can be effectively treated.

Initial Liposuction Results

Immediately after liposuction, the patient will see some of the results of their surgery. Usually, up to 10 pounds of fat can be removed, resulting in a noticeably more pleasing body contour. Liposuction can remove stubborn fat deposits from small areas for an aesthetic improvement, but should not be expected to dramatically alter your overall weight.

At first, liposuction results may seem minimal. This is standard, as swelling and bruising can obscure the final effects. Skin in the treated area may also appear loose, as it takes time for your body to adjust to its new, slender shape. Most physicians will ask the patient to wear a compression garment to aid in recovery. This will help reduce the long-term effects of post-liposuction swelling, bruising, and scarring.

Seeing the Final Results

It may take one to three months for swelling and bruising to subside and up to six months for skin to tighten over the area from which fat has been removed. The finished liposuction results should be visible after six months. Following recovery, patients could enjoy a trimmer figure, more defined muscle tone, reduced cellulite, and a more youthful appearance. Of course, the results are not the same for everyone, but most patients enjoy a huge boost of self-confidence after undergoing liposuction.

It is important to remember that liposuction benefits are not exclusively aesthetic; indeed, liposuction can be the first step toward a healthier, more active lifestyle for the patient. Many patients begin strict diet and exercise regimes to maintain results after liposuction. With proper maintenance, the treatment results can last for years to come.

Maintenance

Some people believe that they will no longer have to exercise and maintain a proper diet after liposuction. Unfortunately, this is not the case. While liposuction is an excellent way to reduce excess body fat in specific areas, the removal of fat cells is by no means a guarantee against future weight gain. The cells that are removed during liposuction will not regenerate. However, patients may find that if they do not make alterations to their exercise and diet routines after liposuction, they are more apt to gain weight in areas of their bodies that were not previously problematic.

The most successful and satisfied patients are those who use their liposuction as motivation to develop healthier eating and exercise habits. In fact, patients who do not follow a healthy diet or exercise routine after liposuction are far more likely to gain weight again.

Healthy Diet

Because each patient has individual nutritional and lifestyle needs, there is no set diet that a person should follow after liposuction. Many patients use liposuction as a way to jump-start a healthier lifestyle, using their physical and financial investment in the procedure as motivation to take better care of their bodies. In general, patients should eat plenty of lean protein, calcium-rich dairy products, fresh produce, and whole grains. They should also increase their water consumption and cut back on processed foods. For more personalized diet advice, patients may want to consider visiting with a nutritionist.

Exercise

Exercise is important because it helps keep off excess pounds and increases muscle definition. Regular physical activity can also have enormous benefits for overall wellness, decreasing the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression. There is no need for liposuction patients to suddenly take on an extreme exercise routine. However, they should engage in some type of physical activity at least 5 days a week. Good choices include jogging, walking, biking, yoga, swimming, dance classes, and similar activities. Combined with proper diet, regular exercise can help patients keep their figures trim and toned.

Benefits

Liposuction is one of the most popular plastic surgery procedures because it offers safe, effective fat and cellulite removal, and it can easily be combined with other cosmetic surgery techniques. Some of the main liposuction benefits include improved health associated with fat loss, improved overall appearance, and the reduction in the appearance of cellulite.

Improved Health

Fat removal, whether through dieting or liposuction, can have beneficial effects for your overall health and well-being. Most doctors agree that weight loss is the best way to reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. Although liposuction cannot be used to remove large quantities of fat, it can be used to eliminate stubborn pockets of fat, typically totaling 10 pounds or less.

Liposuction also benefits those in need of breast reduction. This type of breast surgery is often used when disproportionately large breasts cause health problems such as back pain, neck pain, and headaches.

Improved Appearance

Problem areas that are resistant to diet and exercise can often be dramatically improved through liposuction. The body smoothing and contouring possible with liposuction can make an individual look and feel better simply because their clothes fit better. More importantly, their entire figure could be rejuvenated and enhanced after this procedure. Plastic surgery patients who undergo liposuction may even find unexpected benefits of the procedure as they begin to partake in activities that they had previously shied away from because they were unhappy with their appearance.

Fat Removal

Every cell in the body has a specific function that is vital to the body's overall health and well-being. Fat cells are designed to store any unused energy from the food we eat. The body uses fat for insulation, shock absorption, and an emergency source of fuel. However, while your body does need some fat, extra cells can be eliminated without damage to your overall health. Liposuction is an effective fat removal treatment and can help eliminate unwanted pockets of fat that accumulate disproportionately in various areas of the body. The specific areas where your body stores fat are determined by body type, which largely depends on genetics. Following this procedure, you could enjoy a more pleasing, contoured appearance.

Cellulite Removal

Cellulite is caused by fat cells pushing through the collagen, the connective tissue directly beneath the skin's surface, causing a dimpled appearance. The appearance of cellulite is not related to the amount of body fat an individual has and is prevalent even in healthy and underweight people. Cellulite is more common in women because men have a tighter collagen mesh pattern beneath their skin. Liposuction can help aid cellulite removal in both men and women, but it is important to remember that there is no permanent "cure" for cellulite. The success of cellulite removal is dependent on many factors, including genetics. Because of this, patients should not expect liposuction to eliminate cellulite from their bodies.

Risks

Every surgical or medical procedure involves a certain amount of risk. To minimize potential liposuction risks and side-effects, patients should educate themselves on the different types of liposuction procedures, while discussing their expectations and concerns with their physician.

Possible Liposuction Risks

With any type of cosmetic surgery, including liposuction, complications may arise, but they are rare. Liposuction complications may include:

  • Infection
  • Extended healing time
  • Allergic reaction to medication or anesthesia
  • Fat or blood clots - clots can migrate to the lungs and lead to death
  • Excessive fluid loss - fluid loss can lead to shock and, in some cases, death
  • Fluid accumulation - fluid must be drained
  • Friction burns
  • Scarring
  • Numb skin
  • Changes in skin pigmentation
  • Damage to the skin or nerves
  • Damage to vital organs

Severe Liposuction Complications

Severe complications associated with liposuction are extremely rare, but should be taken into consideration when deciding whether liposuction is right for you. These complications include adverse reactions to anesthesia, cardiac arrest, cardiac arrhythmia, internal blood clots, excessive bleeding, severe drug interactions, allergic reactions to medication, permanent nerve damage, seizures, and brain damage from anesthesia.

Dangers of Excessive Liposuction

The most common dangers of liposuction include risks associated with removing too much fat from targeted areas at once, as well as having too much liposuction performed in a single day. Excessive liposuction can cause problems including dents, lumps, and sagging skin. In order to minimize surgical complications and the side effects of overexposure to anesthesia, when patients are looking to remove larger portions of fat, they should schedule multiple liposuction procedures at least several days apart.

Minimizing Risks

You can minimize your risk for severe complications by disclosing your entire medical history to your doctor and discussing all prescription and over-the-counter medications you take on a regular basis. You and your physician should also make sure you are a good candidate for liposuction and fully understand what is involved in this procedure.

To maximize the success of liposuction surgery and minimize your risks, always follow your cosmetic surgeon's instructions for surgical preparation and postoperative care. If you smoke, your cosmetic surgeon will advise you to stop two weeks prior to and following liposuction surgery. You may also choose another avenue for fat removal. There are non-surgical liposuction alternatives available to patients who are not good candidates for liposuction or simply prefer other methods.

Temporary Side Effects

In addition to the risks mentioned above, liposuction does cause some common side effects, which typically dissipate within a few weeks of the procedure.

Swelling

Liposuction will cause some swelling afterwards, although some techniques cause less than others. During follow-up visits with a doctor, it is important for a patient to inform the doctor of any changes in the amount of post-liposuction swelling. Significant increases in swelling can be a warning sign of other complications. Swelling in the ankles and treated areas is common, along with a temporary lumpy appearance that will typically fade within six months. If the thighs are treated, inflammation of the veins may occur, but this should also go away after a few weeks.

Bruises

Another liposuction side-effect is bruising. Treated areas may become discolored and be tender to the touch, but they usually disappear after one month. Like swelling, the particular type of liposuction used can help mitigate any bruising that may occur. The status of the bruises should also be discussed with the doctor in post-surgery check-ups.

Discomfort

Following liposuction, patients often experience some soreness and tenderness in the treatment area. This can usually be controlled with over-the-counter pain medication, and a physician may prescribe stronger medication, if needed. However, this discomfort is typically minimal, and patients can typically return to work about two days after their procedures. If they experience severe discomfort or if the soreness gets worse after several days, patients should alert their doctors.

Safety Data

Many patients are concerned about the potential risks involved in liposuction. The truth is, while liposuction can have adverse effects, the treatment is very safe when it is performed by a qualified plastic surgeon. Unfortunately, with the increasing popularity of the procedure, more and more doctors offer the procedure, and not all of them are experienced with this treatment. This is another reason that patients should take the time to find a highly qualified surgeon for their liposuction.

Food and Drug Administration

According to the FDA, there are no hard numbers regarding the risk of death from liposuction. While there have been several studies, the results vary significantly. According to one study, there are 3 deaths for every 100,000 liposuction procedures. However, another study indicates that there are as many as 20 to 100 deaths for every 100,000 liposuctions.[1]

Whatever the exact numbers, they are still quite low. Additionally, in just the last few years, there have been a stunning number of advances in liposuction techniques and technology. Patients who carefully select an outstanding doctor and follow all pre- and post-procedural suggestions will face very few risks.

Non-Surgical Alternatives

If you want to achieve a sleeker figure, but you are reluctant to undergo surgery, there are a number of non-invasive techniques that may prove effective. Although these alternatives do not typically provide the same dramatic effects that liposuction can give, they can still be excellent choices, especially if you are not a candidate for surgical fat removal.

Ultrasound Fat Reduction

Some doctors may use ultrasound waves to break down fat cells before suctioning them out. However, ultrasound technology can be an effective tool for fat reduction, even when it is not used in conjunction with liposuction. Your doctor will apply an ultrasound device to the treatment area, and the waves will gently break down the cells, allowing your body to rid itself of the fat over a period of time. Ultrasound fat reduction treatments, such as Liposonix®, typically take about an hour and involve no anesthesia or downtime. They can also boost collagen production and improve skin elasticity. However, these treatments typically do not result in as much fat removal as surgical liposuction.

Laser Therapy

In contrast to laser-assisted liposuction, laser fat reduction does not involve any incisions or downtime. Treatments such as Zerona® and i-lipo TM use cool, safe lasers to break down fat cells. These treatments can physically shrink the fat cells and enable your body to expel them naturally during the detoxification process. Procedures can last between 20 minutes and an hour, although techniques such as i-lipo typically involve a multi-treatment regimen. However, some experts believe that laser therapy can only remove fat cells that are close to the skin, leaving the deeper cells unaffected.

Radiofrequency Treatments

Radiofrequency fat removal uses radiofrequency waves to heat unwanted fat cells. The high-power waves can demolish these cells, yet the surrounding cells will be unharmed. Typically, you will have several short treatment sessions. Many experts hail radiofrequency treatments, such as Vanquish and Accent® Ultra, for their ability to remove fat and improve the appearance of cellulite with minimal discomfort and no need for anesthesia. However, this technology has not yet received FDA approval for use in fat removal, and therefore, many doctors are hesitant to offer this form of treatment.

Cryolipolysis®

Cryoliposlysis is an alternative fat reduction treatment that does have FDA approval. This treatment uses cool temperatures to freeze stubborn fat cells without impacting the surrounding skin or muscle. As the cells crystalize, the body can expel them naturally over a period of several months. To perform this treatment, the doctor will apply cooling panels to the treatment area for about 40 minutes. Like most patients, you will likely find the session relaxing, and you can read or even nap as your fat cells are frozen away. You may enjoy optimal results after just one appointment, or you may benefit from multiple sessions. You should be aware, however, that this treatment is more suited to some areas of the body than others. Doctors typically use cryolipolysis to treat the abdomen, thighs, and hips.

Lifestyle Changes

Liposuction is highly effective in removing stubborn fat cells that seem immune to diet and exercise. However, if you have not yet made a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, you should make these changes before pursuing liposuction. You may find that, with the right modifications, the areas that have troubled you for years become firmer and more contoured.

Statistics

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery®, liposuction is the second most popular cosmetic procedure in the country, surpassed only by breast augmentation. In 2012, the ASAPS there were 313,011 liposuction procedures performed in the US in 2012. While liposuction is the second most popular surgical procedure in general, it is the number one treatment for men seeking cosmetic surgery.[2]

Age

Doctors most commonly perform liposuction on patients age 40 and above, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. ASPS data reveals that in 2009 there were:

  • 3,179 liposuction procedures performed on patients ages 13 to 19
  • 30,023 liposuction procedures performed on patients ages 20 to 29
  • 64,578 liposuction procedures performed on patients ages 30 to 39
  • 79,231 liposuction procedures performed on patients age 40 and older[3]

Geography

More patients on the West Coast choose liposuction than anywhere else in the country. Again, according to the ASPS, the 2009 breakdown is as follows:

  • 34 percent of all liposuctions were done in the Mountain/Pacific region (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, WY, AK, CA, HI, OR, WA)
  • 22 percent of all liposuctions were done in the South Atlantic region (DE, DC, FL, GA, MD, NC, SC, VA, WV, PR)
  • 17 percent of all liposuctions were done in the New England/Mid-Atlantic region (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT, NJ, NY, PA)
  • 15 percent of all liposuctions were done in the South Central region (AL, KY, MS, TN, AR, LA, OK, TX)
  • 13 percent of all liposuctions were done in the North Central region (IL, IN, MI, OH, WI, IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD) [4]

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does liposuction treatment take?

The exact time frame will depend on your particular surgery and the area you wish to treat. Treatment for larger areas, such as the back or abdomen, will typically take longer than treatment for smaller areas. In general, however, liposuction will take between one and four hours to complete.

Can a doctor correct bad results from a previous liposuction treatment?

It varies from case to case. There are some highly qualified liposuction revision experts, but these doctors may not be able to eliminate all of the adverse effects of your past surgery. In many cases, however, they can greatly improve your appearance and self-confidence, even if they cannot fully restore your pre-liposuction figure.

Of course, to avoid these ill effects in the first place, you should take extreme care when you are choosing your liposuction surgeon. Always select an experienced board-certified doctor with a reputation for excellence.

Can liposuction treat obesity?

No. As a candidate for liposuction, you should be at or near your ideal weight, and you should simply want to enhance your figure and gain a more evenly contoured body. Liposuction is intended to remove isolated pockets of fat that do not respond to dedicated diet and exercise. During this treatment, your doctor should not remove more than 10 pounds or 5 liters of fat. Excess fat removal can result in fluid imbalance and serious complications.

Why wear a compression garment after treatment?

After liposuction, most doctors will require you to wear a compression garment or bandage over the treatment area. This garment will reduce post-surgical bleeding, minimize discomfort, and speed your recovery time. During open-drainage tumescent liposuction, your surgeon will leave the incisions open. Following this type of treatment, the garment will help the anesthetic fluid to leave your body more quickly. Following closed-drainage liposuction, in which the doctor will use sutures to close the incisions, the compression garment encourages your body to absorb the fluid more quickly for faster healing.

How long do I have to wear the garment?

It depends on your individual procedure and your doctor's personal preferences. In some cases, you may need to wear it for up to six weeks, but in other instances, particularly if you choose open-drainage tumescent liposuction, you may only need to wear the garment for a few days.

Are liposuction results permanent?

Yes and no. Liposuction permanently removes fat cells, but it does not prevent future weight gain. However, if you do gain weight in the future, the fat cells will likely accumulate in a different area. Therefore, if you receive liposuction on your abdomen, you could retain a smaller waist for years to come, even if you gain weight on your arms, hips, or other areas.

Will liposuction leave scars?

Yes, liposuction will leave scars, but they will be very small. Additionally, your doctor will carefully place any necessary incisions so that they are hidden in the natural contours of your body. Most patients are not troubled by these virtually undetectable scars.

Can I smoke after liposuction?
Smoking inhibits the flow of oxygen through the body and impairs recovery. In some cases, it can lead to serious complications. Most doctors recommend that you do not smoke for at least two weeks after liposuction.

When can I go back to work?

Recovery time differs for each patient, but in general, you can return to work two to four days after your liposuction treatment. The exact time will depend on the area you had treated and your body's natural healing process. If you have an extremely physical job, you may need to take more time off; doctors recommend that patients wait at least three weeks after liposuction before engaging in aerobic exercise.

Should I get liposuction or a tummy tuck?

If you have a significant amount of loose skin around your midsection, or if pregnancy, weight loss, and/or age has weakened your abdominal muscles, you may want to consider a tummy tuck. However, if you have healthy skin that adheres to the natural contours of your body, you are probably a better candidate for liposuction. Ultimately, the only way to determine the right procedure for you is to schedule an appointment with an experienced cosmetic surgeon.



[1] What Are the Risks or Complications? (Food and Drug Administration, 2014) <http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/SurgeryandLifeSupport/Liposuction/ucm256139.htm>

[2] Cosmetic Procedures Increase in 2012 (American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 2013)

< http://www.surgery.org/media/news-releases/cosmetic-procedures-increase-in-2012>

[3] Liposuction Statistics (ASPS Procedural Statistics, American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2010)

< http://www.realself.com/asps-liposuction-statistics>

[4] ibid

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