Liposuction - Safety, Risks & Benefits


Liposuction is when fat is removed from the body during a cosmetic surgery procedure. Liposuction can be used on most parts of the body where fats lie under the skin. It is designed to remove the unwanted fat and is not necessarily used as a means to make the person thinner. It should never be used as a diet or weight loss program. You can have liposuction done in a variety of different ways. The traditional way is using a special cannula that is attached to a vacuum pump that is used to suck the fat cells from the body. This type is known as dry liposuction. There is also wet liposuction, super wet liposuction and tumescent liposuction. More modern types include ultrasound assisted liposuction, power assisted liposuction or microaire liposuction. Some of these more modern techniques allow the plastic surgeon to remove the fat cells with more ease than with more traditional methods. This means there is much less risk to the patient and recovery time is less. However, how safe is liposuction?

potential liposuction patients should have full disclosure with their surgeon

The Procedure

Liposuction is carried out under general anaesthetic, and the procedure can take anywhere from one to three hours depending on the size of the area(s) being targeted.

The surgeon will prep for treatment by marking the area with pen, and this area is then treated with a solution to reduce the risk of blood loss and swelling. The surgeon may also use a laser to break down fat deposits so the cells are easier to remove, but this is not always necessary. An incision is then made, and a cannula is put in place and attached to a vacuum machine. This is used to suck out the fat, and the surgeon will then remove any excess fluid before closing the incision.

As with any cosmetic procedure, you will have to sign a consent form prior to surgery, and you may be asked to adhere to some preparatory guidelines in the run up to your liposuction taking place. These could include abstaining from alcohol and smoking, refraining from taking the contraceptive pill, and avoiding certain drugs such as aspirin.

Is Liposuction Safe?

Patients who are considering having liposuction treatment should be made fully aware of all the potential risks included before they go ahead with any form of treatment. Patients are advised that they should reveal all of their medical history to the surgeon and the medical history of your close family.

This will help the surgeon to decide if you are a suitable candidate for treatment. Make sure that you choose a well established clinic that has all the relevant certification required for this type of procedure. The surgeon you choose should be very experienced with liposuction techniques. Patients are advised to stick to post operative instructions to the letter, by following the rules you will greatly minimise your risk of complications. There is a small risk of developing a blood clot to the lungs after surgery and developing fat in the blood vessels. You must remain active during recovery even when still in the clinic. Staff will encourage patients to remain mobile to minimise the risk of post operative complications. Pulmonary embolism is a risk within the first three days after surgery as fat may break off during the procedure and travels to the lungs. Lidocaine which is injected into the body can become toxic if too much is used.

Watch Mr David Floyd, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital, outline the potential risks and complications of having liposuction:


Video Transcript

"In general liposuction is a fairly safe procedure but you need to remember it does involve general anesthetic which comes with a set of small risks associated with it. Usually what happens is a small metal tube is placed under the skin and the fat is sucked out from various areas.

Complications from liposuction arise when the liposuction is in the wrong hands so it is possible to get damage to the underlying bowel or to an organ within the abdomen. Actually those are really the issues that cause the catastrophic complications and occasionally death. It is very, very rare, and everyone who conducts liposuction needs to be aware of these potential complications because actually with a little bit of care and attention they are very, very easily avoided.

Recovery from liposuction is relatively straightforward, we usually have no vigorous activity for six weeks, a compression garment to manage the swelling, but because there are no big incisions there is no risk of significant bleeding, infection is very uncommon, all of those sort of complications that come with other more aggressive surgeries are not related to liposuction at all so in general it’s a fairly safe procedure."

Mr David Floyd, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital


Other Risks To Consider

There are some other minor complications of liposuction that also need to be considered by the potential patient. Removing the fat cells from certain areas of the body may result in loose skin. People who have good skin elasticity usually do not come across this problem but everyone is different. Sometimes the patient can have uneven curves after surgery and end up having further surgery to rectify this problem. Liposuction does leave scars, although not very noticeable, for some people these will be an issue. After the surgery has taken place you will be swollen for a while and some people can be swollen for weeks or months after their surgery has taken place. There is a small chance of infection that will need to be treated with antibiotics. Ultrasonic assisted liposuction also carries the risk of burns due to the hot probe that is used for the procedure. Fluid imbalance is yet another risk, during the liposuction operation fluid is injected and some fluids are removed. Fluid imbalance may result in pulmonary edema and possible heart or kidney dysfunction.

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Who Is Suitable For Liposuction?

The risks from liposuction can be greatly reduced if the patient asks themselves are they are suitable candidate for this cosmetic procedure. Most people do qualify as good candidates for this type of procedure. People who are near their target weight and who lead a healthy lifestyle such as eating well and exercising regularly are ideal. The patient should have tried to get rid of the fat by themselves. People with good skin elasticity also make great candidates, this will usually consist of people under forty. The patient should want re shaping rather than to loose weight. If there are one or two fatty areas on the patients body that are resistant to diet and exercise these can be treated with ease. Patients should have no significant medical problems such a lung disease, heart disease and poor circulation. Patient should also be psychologically stable and be non smokers to be considered for surgery. The main this to remember with all forms of liposuction is it is not a weight loss method or an obesity cure. Patients have to maintain a healthy lifestyle after surgery in order for the procedure to be a success.

Results And Recovery

As there are different methods of liposuction, the results and recovery time will vary depending on which was used.

If you have had liposuction on a small area of fat under a local anaesthetic, you could be discharged the same day. However, patients that have undergone more extensive liposuction carried out under general anaesthetic may be required to stay in for longer. You may be given painkillers to help with the soreness you could experience following the procedure, along with antibiotics if infection is present. Your surgeon may ask you to wear a compression garment depending on where you’ve undergone liposuction, as this will help reduce the risk of clotting.

It is normal to experience numbness, bruising and swelling in the treated area following the procedure. However, most people are able to return to regular work and daily activities between 10-14 days after the procedure. Swelling should have completely subsided within six months of the surgery, at which point you should be able to see noticeable results.

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