What is Liposuction?
Liposuction is one of the most common surgical procedures performed by American Board of Plastic Surgery members. The procedure is designed to remove deposits of subcutaneous fat over diverse areas of the body. Some of these areas are resistant to diet and exercise, and many scientists believe they were designed by nature to function as fat storage regions to withstand famine. Some studies claim these subcutaneous cells appear different from the fat cells in other areas of the body under microscopic analysis.
Liposuction is as much art as science, and it is important to choose a board-certified plastic surgeon whom you feel comfortable with and have conﬁdence in. When you come in for an initial consultation with me, you should expect to spend a couple of hours in my office. I show prospective patients a video describing the procedure and give them a book of liposuction before-and-after photos, as well as patient testimonials, so they can get an idea of my work and the results that are possible. Then I examine the patient in the presence of a nurse. Together, we discuss the results the patient would like to see and the best way to achieve them. Most often I use tumescent solution with power-assisted liposuction (PAL).
What Areas Can Be Treated with Liposuction?
Liposuction can remove fatty deposits from many different regions of the body, including:
- Face and neck
- Upper arms
- Inner and outer thighs
- Calves and ankles (in certain cases)
Sometimes it is better to address a little more than the areas you are concerned with to achieve a smooth long-term result. If you store a lot of fat in your hips and stomach, for example, suctioning only the hips can create the look of a protruding stomach if you later gain weight. Your doctor can advise you on the best way to achieve the look you want. If your expectations are realistic, you should be pleased with your result, no matter how subtle or dramatic.
Liposuction is often performed with complementary surgeries, such as a facelift following suction of the neck area in facial liposuction; a tummy tuck following suction of the abdominal wall; or a thigh lift following suction of the area to be tightened. If you are seeking a non-surgical method of body contouring that does not require anesthesia or downtime, our practice also offers CoolSculpting® treatment for gradual fat removal achieved with controlled-cooling technology.
Who is a Candidate for Liposuction?
The best candidates for liposuction are people of normal weight who have excellent overlying skin tone and localized areas of fullness. Those considering liposuction should also realize that liposuction is not a weight loss procedure. Age is of less importance when it comes to liposuction, but older patients may not have the same skin elasticity as younger people. The popular literature in the mid-1980s stated that anyone over 40 years old couldn’t have liposuction, but the age has since been raised. I’ve done liposuction on a 63-year-old woman with a surprisingly good result.
It is vital that you are as clear as possible about your expectations. If you are hoping for a perfectly ﬂat stomach, for example, it might take a tummy tuck as well as liposuction to achieve the results you want.
How is Liposuction Performed?
Liposuction is generally done on a same-day basis, often in a surgical center specializing in cosmetic surgery. High volume procedures, in which more than eleven pounds of ﬂuid is planned for removal, should be done at a hospital. High volume procedures carry much higher risks and I generally don’t recommend them.
You will meet with your doctor before the surgery and the areas to be suctioned will be marked with a felt-tip marker to ensure accuracy during surgery. This also helps ensure the patient and doctor are on the same wavelength. This is where you need to be very clear about your expectations. If you are having your buttocks suctioned, do you want them to be full and rounded or ﬂat and boyish? Unless you tell your surgeon what your own idea of beauty is, you’ll end up with his or hers.
Once you are marked, the surgery will begin. A narrow tube called a cannula is attached to a vacuum machine and passed through small skin incisions, which are strategically placed in skin folds whenever possible. By a repetitive gliding and suction motion, fat is removed and sculpted until good contour and symmetry is established. It’s a fairly common practice to inject a wetting solution into the surgical area prior to beginning the suction. This enhances results and greatly diminishes blood loss. Using a wetting solution is fairly standard practice and allows a dilute local anesthetic and adrenaline to be deposited. This can diminish discomfort during the procedure and decrease post-operative bruising. During liposuction, fat isn’t the only thing removed. Vital body ﬂuids are being removed as well, so it’s important to replace these fluids to prevent shock. You’ll be carefully monitored during the procedure and will receive intravenous fluids during and immediately after surgery.
What Kind of Anesthesia is Used for Liposuction?
Your procedure will be done under local, regional, or general anesthesia. Discuss the various options with your surgeon to choose the option that is best for you.
Local (with or without sedation): If small amounts of fat or a limited number of body sites are involved, a local anesthetic can be used to numb the area. You may have a mild sedative to help you relax. This method is referred to as IV (intravenous) sedation or monitored anesthesia care (MAC).
Regional: For more extensive procedures, a regional anesthetic can be used. This comes in the form of an epidural block. A catheter is inserted into the spine in a relatively painless procedure and a continuous ﬂow of anesthetic is delivered that results in no feeling from the waist down. You’re fully awake when this method is used. The same anesthesia is used in childbirth.
General: You may opt for general anesthesia if you are having a large amount of fat removed. In this case you will be unconscious throughout surgery and may have a breathing tube and catheter inserted for the duration of the procedure.
Types of Liposuction
Several different liposuction techniques, including tumescent, super-wet, power-assisted, and ultrasound-assisted lipoplasty, may be used. Your doctor will go over each option and determine which is best for your particular case.
Traditional Liposuction (Suction-Assisted Liposuction)
The standard liposuction technique involves the use of a thin cannula to loosen fat cells and suction out areas of localized fat. A small incision is made near the treatment site, providing the access point for the cannula to gently remove the desired amount of fat in the targeted region(s).
Perhaps the most common liposuction technique utilized, tumescent liposuction injects a medicated solution in the treated areas prior to suction in order to allow a smoother removal process, minimize blood loss and bruising, and increase patient comfort during the procedure. The solution is typically composed of lidocaine (a local numbing agent), epinephrine, and an intravenous fluid designed to make fat removal easier.
Super-Wet Liposuction (SWL)
Super-wet liposuction is akin to tumescent liposuction, similarly employing a medicated solution before fat removal to allow a smoother treatment process. However, this technique uses less solution than tumescent liposuction and may require an additional anesthetic during surgery.
Power-Assisted Liposuction (PAL)
With the same suction method that is utilized in traditional liposuction, power-assisted liposuction simply employs an oscillating cannula to better dislodge and loosen fat in the treated areas, requiring less manual effort to break up fat cells. This can make removing excess fat easier when compared to unassisted liposuction techniques.
Ultrasound-Assisted Liposuction (UAL)
Although the development of suction-assisted lipectomy has advanced the field of plastic surgery, specific areas were not, until recently, as amenable to treatment. These areas included fibrous areas of the back, the breast area in men, and regions in which liposuction was previously performed (in certain patients). It was discovered that ultrasound energy delivered through a hollow titanium probe into the subcutaneous tissue could selectively destroy fat cells. Usually, this procedure is followed by traditional liposuction to remove remaining liquefied material not harvested by the ultrasound probe. Some patients also see a dramatic tightening of the skin.
There are some additional risks to using UAL compared to traditional liposuction, including skin burns and micro-fragmentation of the cannula. Since this is a newer procedure, there may be additional risks that are not yet evident. I have seen some skin irregularities develop during the procedure, which generally resolve on their own. UAL is touted as having fewer post-operative problems, such as bruising, but this has not really been a factor in my experience because the classic suction-assisted technique is always used following the UAL, and bruising is normal with this procedure.
Some plastic surgeons melt the underlying fat through the skin with an external ultrasound machine. This requires injecting fluid into the underlying tissue, so there will still be an incision or a puncture site. Only moderate amounts of fat can be removed with this technique and a large volume would have to be treated in multiple surgical sessions. As of now, the best bet for removing larger volumes still involves surgery.
What is Recovery From Liposuction Like?
You will be prescribed pain medication and anti-nausea medication, and can expect to feel stiff and sore for a few days. If you have any unusual symptoms that are not outlined on your discharge sheet, call your surgeon immediately.
To control swelling and help your skin fit its new contours, you will have to wear a snug elastic surgical garment—like a girdle—for six weeks following your surgery. This is usually worn 24 hours a day for the first three weeks, and 12 hours a day during the daytime for the last three weeks.
Following this surgery, patients are sore but most feel better during the first week. Many patients compare the feeling to the muscle soreness you experience following a strenuous workout. You may experience some mild discomfort for several weeks. Swelling following the procedure may last up to six months, although many patients see a dramatic improvement within the first week.
Even though you may not want to, walking is the best way to speed up your recovery. It helps reduce swelling and prevents blood clots. If your ankles swell from walking, your body is telling you to cut down your activities and get off your feet more. Sit down, put your feet up, and ﬂex your ankles frequently to help your circulation. Avoid strenuous activities for about two weeks.
Most people are able to return to work in about a week, but downtime may last as little as a few days, depending on your procedure and the kind of work you do. Stitches will dissolve in about ten days.
Will I Have Visible Liposuction Scars?
In most cases, scars from liposuction can be virtually unnoticeable. Incisions for the procedure are usually only a few millimeters or less than a quarter of an inch, allowing your surgeon to conceal them within the natural contours of the skin whenever possible. Following the procedure, the small scars from your incisions should fade gradually and may even disappear altogether. To increase the chances that your scar(s) will lighten over time, you can follow the aftercare instructions that will be provided by your surgeon after liposuction. Some simple measures you can take include:
- Applying sunscreen over scars once incisions are fully healed
- Using the prescribed ointments as instructed
- Minimizing stress on your incisions
- Avoiding smoking and drinking during the healing process
- Eating a healthy, protein-rich diet to promote proper healing of skin
Fortunately, scars from liposuction are generally mild when compared to other surgical procedures. Your surgeon will let you know what to expect during your consultation.
What are the Side Effects of Liposuction?
Most patients report that pain is a three on a scale of 1 to 10, but some report a seven or eight. Some fluid will drain from the incisions. You may experience pain, burning, swelling, bleeding, and numbness.
You may feel nervous or anxious in the days and weeks following your procedure. You may be stiffer and more sore than you expected, or you may have thought you would look different a lot sooner. Many patients feel somewhat depressed following surgery. This is a normal reaction to the stress your body has experienced and should go away in a few days. Be patient. The more time passes, the better you will look and feel.
Bruising will improve within about three weeks, but you may experience some residual swelling for as long as six months or even more. Don’t expose your skin to the sun or a tanning booth while bruising is still present. This may fixate the blood cell pigment in the skin and bruising may become more prolonged or even permanent.
The areas of suction may feel numb and strange for a couple of months, but this should improve over time. Some areas may feel tender to the touch for several months.
What are the Risks of Liposuction?
Your risks with this procedure are minimal if you are physically healthy, a good candidate for the surgery, and if your doctor is adequately trained. If you have heart or lung disease, diabetes, or poor blood circulation, liposuction carries some increased risks that should be discussed with your doctor.
Although complications are very rare, they do occur. Possible complications during the surgery can include excessive fluid loss, which can lead to shock. You will be given intravenous fluids during the procedure to prevent this. Rare but serious complications include friction burns, damage to the skin or nerves, perforation injuries to vital organs, and adverse reactions to injected fluids or anesthesia.
Post-surgical complications are similar to those of other surgeries and can include infection, healing delays, blood clots, and fluid accumulation requiring drainage. Complications are rare when an experienced medical team performs the procedure in a licensed surgical facility.
Though serious medical complications from liposuction are rare, the risks increase if a greater number and size of areas are treated at one time. Removal of large volumes of fat and fluid may require sizeable volumes of pre-injection fluid and longer operating times. The combination of these factors can create hazards for infections, delays in healing, improper fluid balance, shock, and unfavorable drug reactions.
The most common problems with liposuction are cosmetic. Your skin surface may be irregular, asymmetric, or even baggy, depending on your skin tone. Sometimes additional surgeries can improve these imperfections. Touch-up surgery is widespread following liposuction. Residual areas of fullness are quite common, and your surgeon may allow for a follow-up procedure in his fee. As always, you will still have to pay for any new surgical center charges.
How Long Do the Results of Liposuction Last?
Since we do not grow new fat cells once they are removed, the results of liposuction can be very long-lasting. The regions addressed by liposuction generally remain sleeker than they would appear if they had not been treated, a result that can be considered a long-term benefit. With a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, you can enjoy your slimmer body contours for many years to come. Even individuals who experience additional weight gain after liposuction often report that the weight is distributed to other areas when compared to before surgery.
How Much Does Liposuction Cost?
Although your cost estimate will vary based on your geographic location and the expertise of your plastic surgeon, the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) lists the average surgical fee for liposuction as roughly $3,280. However, this price does not include the operating room fee. The details of your treatment plan will ultimately determine the nature of your liposuction expenses, such as:
- The number of areas to be treated
- The liposuction technique utilized
- The amount of fat planned for removal
- The overall complexity of your procedure
Rest assured that you will receive a personalized quote after your consultation. To make the benefits of cosmetic surgery available to all patients who seek them, we work with reputable plastic surgery financing companies like CareCredit® and Alphaeon™ Credit. Offering a number of payment plans with low- to no-interest options, these healthcare lending companies can make the cost of liposuction more affordable for qualified applicants. For more information about our accepted payment methods, please reach out to our practice to speak to a member of our team.
Are There Any Liposuction Alternatives?
As a cosmetic procedure performed effectively for decades, liposuction is typically the most powerful way to remove isolated fat pockets around the body. However, other treatments may also be beneficial for patients who can’t—or don’t want to—undergo a surgical procedure. CoolSculpting® is a non-surgical alternative to liposuction that can also smooth fat bulges and achieve beautiful body contouring results. Unlike liposuction, which is designed to suction out redundant fat, CoolSculpting® does not use incisions. The controlled-cooling treatment is designed to deliver extremely cold temperatures to the targeted fatty tissue via a handpiece that does not penetrate the skin. As the coldness destroys fat cells, excess fat is metabolized by the body through natural processes, leaving a slimmer and smoother aesthetic result. CoolSculpting® can work great as a non-surgical fat reduction technique, but the procedure is limited in how much fat removal is possible and which areas can be treated. Additionally, whereas liposuction can target multiple areas in one operation, CoolSculpting® may require multiple sessions to achieve the desired results.
Whether liposuction or CoolSculpting® is the most ideal fat removal treatment for you depends on your concerns and unique needs. Our team can guide you in determining the best technique to achieve your cosmetic goals.
If you would like to learn more about liposuction, or if you are ready to schedule a consultation, please contact our practice today.