Liposuction is a surgical procedure that uses a suction technique to remove fat from specific areas of the body, such as from the abdomen, hips, thighs or buttocks. Liposuction also shapes or contours these areas. You may be a candidate for liposuction if you have too much body fat in specific spots, but otherwise have a stable body weight.
Liposuction isn't typically considered an overall weight-loss method or a weight-loss alternative. If you're overweight, you're likely to lose more weight through diet and exercise or through bariatric procedures — such as gastric bypass surgery — than you would with liposuction.
Other terms for liposuction include lipoplasty, suction lipectomy and body contouring.
Why it's done
Liposuction is used to treat isolated areas of fat that are resistant to diet and exercise, such as fat found in the:
In addition, liposuction is sometimes used for breast reduction.
When you gain weight, fat cells increase in size and volume. In turn, liposuction reduces the number of fat cells in a specific area. The amount of fat removed depends on the appearance of the area and the volume of fat. The resulting contour changes are generally permanent — as long as your weight remains stable.
After liposuction, the skin molds itself to the new contours of the treated areas. If you have good skin tone and elasticity, the skin is likely to appear smooth. If your skin is thin with poor elasticity, however, the skin in the treated areas may appear loose.
Liposuction doesn't improve cellulite dimpling or other skin surface irregularities. Likewise, liposuction doesn't remove stretch marks.
To be a candidate for liposuction, you must be in good health without conditions that could complicate surgery — such as restricted blood flow, coronary artery disease, diabetes or a weak immune system.
As with any major surgery, liposuction carries risks — such as bleeding and a reaction to anesthesia. Possible complications specific to liposuction include:
The risk of complications increases if the surgeon is working on larger surfaces of your body or doing multiple procedures during the same operation. Talk to your surgeon about how these risks apply to you.
How you prepare
Before the procedure, discuss with your surgeon what to expect from the surgery. Review your medical history, list any medical conditions you have, and tell the surgeon about any medications, supplements or herbs you're taking.
If your procedure requires the removal of only a small amount of fat, the surgery may be done in an office setting. If a large amount of fat needs to be removed — or if you plan to have other procedures done at the same time — the surgery may take place in a hospital, followed by an overnight stay. In either case, arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure.
What you can expect
Before liposuction, the surgeon may mark circles and lines on the areas of your body to be treated. Photos also may be taken, so that before-and-after images can be compared.
How your liposuction procedure is done depends on the specific technique that's used:
During the procedure
The surgical team will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen level throughout the procedure. If you feel pain, tell your surgeon. The medication or motions may need adjustment.
The procedure may last up to several hours, depending on the extent of fat removal. After the procedure, the surgeon may leave your incisions open to promote fluid drainage. If you've had general anesthesia, you'll wake in a recovery room. You'll typically spend at least a few hours in the hospital or clinic so that medical personnel can monitor your recovery. If you're in a hospital, you may stay overnight to make sure that you're not dehydrated or in shock from fluid loss.
After the procedure
Your surgeon may prescribe medication to help control pain and antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection. You also may need to wear tight compression garments, which help reduce swelling, for a few weeks. During this time, expect some contour irregularities as the remaining fat settles into position.
Tumescent liposuction procedure
During tumescent liposuction, the most common type of liposuction, the surgeon uses a thin tube (cannula) attached to a vacuum to remove fat from under the skin. In some cases, the surgeon may insert ...
After liposuction, swelling typically subsides within about four weeks. By this time, the treated area should look less bulky. Within several months, expect the treated area to have a leaner appearance.
Liposuction results are usually permanent, as long as you maintain your weight. If you gain weight after liposuction, your fat distribution may change. For example, if your abdomen and hips were treated, your thighs or buttocks may become problem areas.
Last Updated: 2010-08-07
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