Liposuction is a surgical procedure that uses a suction technique to remove fat from specific areas of the body, such as the abdomen, hips, thighs, buttocks, arms or neck. Liposuction also shapes (contours) these areas. Other names for liposuction include lipoplasty and body contouring.
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.
You may be a candidate for liposuction if you have too much body fat in specific spots but otherwise have a stable body weight.
Why it's done
- Upper arms
- Calves and ankles
- Chest and back
- Hips and thighs
- Chin and neck
In addition, liposuction can sometimes be used for breast reduction or treatment of gynecomastia.
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.
After liposuction, swelling typically subsides within a few weeks. By this time, the treated area should look less bulky. Within several months, expect the treated area to have a leaner appearance.
It's natural for skin to lose some firmness with aging, but liposuction results are generally long lasting as long as you maintain your weight. If you gain weight after liposuction, your fat distribution may change. For example, you may accumulate fat around your abdomen regardless of what areas were originally treated.
How you Prepare
Before the procedure, discuss with your surgeon what to expect from the surgery. Your surgeon will review your medical history, and ask about any medical conditions you may have and any medications, supplements or herbs you may be taking.
Your surgeon will recommend that you stop taking certain medications, such as blood thinners or NSAIDs, at least three weeks prior to surgery. You may also need to get certain lab tests before your procedure.
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 will 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 and stay with you for at least the first night after the procedure.
- Contour irregularities. Your skin may appear bumpy, wavy or withered due to uneven fat removal, poor skin elasticity and unusual healing. These changes may be permanent. Damage beneath the skin from the thin tube (cannula) that's used during liposuction may give the skin a permanent spotted appearance.
- Fluid accumulation. Temporary pockets of fluid (seromas) can form under the skin. This fluid may need to be drained with a needle.
- Numbness. You may feel temporary or permanent numbness in the affected area. Temporary nerve irritation also is possible.
- Infection. Skin infections are rare but possible. A severe skin infection may be life-threatening.
- Internal puncture. Rarely, a cannula that penetrates too deeply may puncture an internal organ. This may require emergency surgical repair.
- Fat embolism. Pieces of loosened fat may break away and become trapped in a blood vessel and gather in the lungs or travel to the brain. A fat embolism is a medical emergency.
- Kidney and heart problems. Shifts in fluid levels as fluids are being injected and suctioned out can cause potentially life-threatening kidney, heart and lung problems.
- Lidocaine toxicity. Lidocaine is an anesthetic often administered with fluids injected during liposuction to help manage pain. Although generally safe, in rare circumstances, lidocaine toxicity can occur, causing serious heart and central nervous system problems.
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.
During the surgery
Some liposuction procedures may require only local or regional anesthesia — anesthesia limited to a specific area of your body. Other procedures may require general anesthesia, which induces a temporary state of unconsciousness. You may be given a sedative, typically through an IV injection, to help you remain calm and relaxed.
The surgical team will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen level throughout the procedure. If you are given local anesthesia and feel pain during the procedure, 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.
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 surgery
Expect some pain, swelling and bruising after the procedure. Your surgeon may prescribe medication to help control the pain and antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection.
After the procedure, the surgeon may leave your incisions open and place temporary drains to promote fluid drainage. You usually need to wear tight compression garments, which help reduce swelling, for a few weeks.
You may need to wait a few days before returning to work and a few weeks before resuming your normal activities — including exercise.
During this time, expect some contour irregularities as the remaining fat settles into position.
Before - After
Frequently Asked Questions
What does liposuction commonly look like?
There are a few different types of liposuction available. Each technique has its merits and having an open conversation with a board-certified plastic surgeon will help determine which is right for you.
However, almost all liposuction methods involve safely and carefully infiltrating a solution of saline, epinephrine and lidocaine into the fat prior to aspirating/sucking out the fat. This standard of care applies to just about all liposuction cases.
The more common type of liposuction is power-assisted liposuction, which involves the insertion of a very small, thin tube called a cannula to break apart the fat by vibrating very rapidly. The fat is then suctioned from the body. This is typically a quicker and more precise method of liposuction.
Is liposuction surgery safe?
Like all surgical procedures, there are some risks associated with each of the liposuction mentioned above. During your consultation, your surgeon will be able to fully layout any risks for the type of liposuction you choose.
Generally speaking, however, liposuction is considered a safe procedure, and if you follow your post-op instructions closely, there are rarely any serious complications.
How do I choose a plastic surgeon for my procedure?
Googling "liposuction near me" or "Seattle liposuction" will return a list of liposuction surgeons in your area, but because this is such a personal and important experience, investing time and effort in finding the right surgeon is wise.
At a minimum, you should always seek out plastic surgeons who are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and have met the standards required for membership in the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Meeting these standards means these surgeons have undergone extensive training and passed rigorous testing in order to practice their craft.
Choosing a plastic surgeon is also a highly personal decision. It's important for you to feel safe and comfortable and with the surgeon you choose, so don't be afraid to schedule consultations with different doctors to find the right "fit" for you.
Another important thing to consider is aesthetics. Each surgeon will have his or her own style of body sculpting. Be sure to look at before and after galleries to gain an understanding of how a surgeon will handle your body shape.
What is frequently asked questions?
Frequently asked questions (FAQ) or Questions and Answers (Q&A), are listed questions and answers, all supposed to be commonly asked in some context, and pertaining to a particular topic.
How long will it take to recover?
Recovery varies from one person to the next, but in general, most people can return to desk work and light activities within a week or so after treatment. You may experience swelling and discomfort for a bit longer than this, and you will be advised not to perform any strenuous exercise for at least a month.
It's important to follow all post-op guidelines closely to minimize recovery time and prevent any complications from arising.
Will I be in pain after the procedure?
Liposuction is a surgical procedure, so there will be some swelling, pain and discomfort in the first few days of your recovery. Most people report feeling post-op pain up to four or five days, but it subsides quickly, and any lingering discomfort can be managed easily.