Liposuction: Easy Way to Lose Fat or Deadly Procedure?

‘Liposuction,’ coined in 1983, has become the most common major cosmetic surgery performed in the U.S. Its popularity stems largely from its ability to remove stubborn fat resistant to diet and exercise. The outpatient procedure uses suction to remove fat deposits from localized areas of the body.

Key takeaways:
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    Liposuction is an increasingly common, relatively safe solution to remove stubborn fat permanently.
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    Plastic surgeons can help to determine if a person is a good candidate for the procedure.
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    Liposuction removes fat from specific parts of the body where fat has disproportionately accumulated, but it is not an effective overall weight removal method.
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    Liposuction is a relatively safe and effective procedure, but the procedure can lead to serious and even life-threatening complications.

Liposuction is sometimes used for non-cosmetic reasons, but it’s primarily used for aesthetic purposes. Also known as body contouring or lipoplasty, liposuction usually targets the stomach, thighs, hips, buttocks, arms, and neck.

Liposuction — not for weight loss

Diet, exercise, and procedures like gastric bypass surgery are conducive to weight loss. However, liposuction instead removes fat only from specific parts of the body where it has disproportionately accumulated. Most people who undergo liposuction have already lost weight using other means but have found that one or some areas of their body cling to fat despite the weight loss.

Interestingly, liposuction may provide some health benefits that accompany weight loss. The data are mixed, but ongoing research addresses the interaction between liposuction, weight, and disease. Recent research suggests that it may be the case that liposuction only provides health benefits — such as improvements in metabolic disease or reductions in the risk of cardiovascular disease — in certain contexts, such as when large volumes of fat are removed.

Effective for stubborn fat

Liposuction dislodges and removes fat cells so that fewer cells can store fat. This approach limits fat accumulation in targeted areas, so future weight changes often lead to a more even fat distribution. For these reasons, liposuction can be an effective way to get rid of stubborn fat.

Another potential benefit of liposuction is an improvement in quality of life. People who have undergone liposuction have reported significant psychological benefits. Patients started feeling more satisfied with their weight and appearance and more self-confident following the procedure.

However, it is important to note that how a person’s body looks over the long term after liposuction depends on weight fluctuation and skin elasticity. Maintaining a healthy weight can optimize aesthetic outcomes after liposuction.

Improved safety and effectiveness

Liposuction has evolved significantly since being introduced in 1975. Scientific advancements have increased the volume of fat that can be removed and made fat removal safer.

One of the latest relevant innovations — vibration amplification of sound energy at resonance (VASER) — pretreats fatty tissue with ultrasonic energy. The procedure breaks up and liquefies fat, so it’s easier to remove. VASER builds on the science of similar devices, with VASER technology providing a more efficient way to safely pretreat fat. In addition, because the device is smaller and lighter, it is less cumbersome for surgeons, further improving efficiency.

Researchers demonstrated that using VASER before liposuction may be especially effective when finer sculpting is required or when performed on softer tissues. The data also show that VASER is less likely than similar devices to lead to complications or the need for additional corrective procedures.

Serious complications are rare

Liposuction, like other surgical procedures, carries risks and can lead to complications. However, because there is no central registry for data on liposuctions, it is impossible to completely understand the link between liposuctions and adverse side effects. Nonetheless, research shows that procedures that take longer and that remove more fat are more likely to lead to complications than those that are shorter and remove less fat.

Plastic surgeons say the most common complications of liposuction include contour irregularities, unplanned hospital admissions, and prolonged swelling. Other minor complications include bleeding, numbness, infections, skin burns, hyperpigmentation, and other skin irregularities.

Life-threatening heart, lung, and kidney problems can occur with liposuction due to changes in fluid levels. A fat embolism, for example, is a medical emergency that can occur when pieces of fat travel into blood vessels. While fat embolism is rare, the fatality rate is between 10 and 15 percent. Other severe complications include necrotizing fasciitis, lidocaine toxicity, and toxic shock syndrome.

Be in good health and educated before undergoing the procedure

To minimize the risk of major complications, surgeons screen patients to determine if they are good candidates for liposuction. Ideal candidates are healthy and avoid tobacco use — a known risk factor for liposuction-related complications. Doctors generally advise people with diabetes, coronary artery disease, or weak immune systems to avoid liposuction.

It is also important that people pursuing liposuction understand the procedure’s risks and limitations. For instance, patients need to know that liposuction does not reduce the size of areas that are larger due to muscle, bone, organs, skin, or fat that lies under the muscles. Furthermore, there is little evidence that liposuction improves the appearance of cellulite.

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