Updated: 2019, Jun 11

Liposuction: How Safe & Effective Is This Surgery?

By - Reviewed by CHD Team

You don’t have to look hard to know that being overweight or obese is a problem. If you’re carrying around too much fat, your clothes might not fit well, a seat on an airplane or at a restaurant might be too small, or doing simple day-to-day activities may be difficult. And if you’ve already tried improving your diet and exercising more to lose weight without success, you may start looking for alternative ways to shed those unwanted pounds.

Being overweight increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, certain types of cancer, and early death. And it can also take a toll on your mental health, self-esteem, and body image.

That’s one reason why an estimated 500,000 people have excess body fat removed with liposuction every year in the United States and it is one of the most popular fat loss surgery, according to the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery.

What is Liposuction or Liposculpture?

Liposuction, also known as liposculpture, is a cosmetic procedure used to remove subcutaneous fat from a specific area of the body. If you have excess subcutaneous fat, you most likely have flabby fat deposits around your waist or other areas of your body where you can “pinch an inch” or more. The most common areas of the body treated with liposuction include the chin, abdomen, legs, thighs, breasts, back, upper arms, and buttocks.

If you want to improve the way your body looks by having excess fat removed, talk to your doctor about liposuction. You’ll need a complete physical exam and thorough medical evaluation for your doctor to determine if you’re a good candidate for liposuction. This is a good time to discuss the areas of your body where you want excess fat removed and learn more about the risks and benefits of this cosmetic procedure.

If you qualify for liposuction, your doctor will use a pen-like medical instrument called a “cannula” to suction out subcutaneous fat from the targeted areas on your body.

Who can do Liposuction and Where it can be Performed?

Who can do Liposuction and Where it can be Performed

Most people who undergo liposuction surgery have it done by a plastic surgeon or dermatologist. However, any licensed doctor can perform the procedure. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require specialized training or certification to perform liposuction surgery, but it must be done by a board-certified doctor.

Liposuction surgery can be performed in a clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital. It can be performed with local anesthesia while you are awake, but some doctors prefer to put you to sleep for the procedure. Talk with your doctor about your options and what form of anesthesia is best for your situation.

When Should I Have Liposuction?

If you’re frustrated with flabby excess body fat, liposuction is one way to improve the way your body looks. But you need to be healthy. If you haven’t lost excess body fat even after making an effort to improve your diet and exercise regularly, liposuction may be right for you.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, you’re an ideal candidate for liposuction if:

  • You have excess subcutaneous fat that you want removed from a specific area of your body
  • You’ve already tried to lose weight by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly
  • You’re within 30 percent of your idea body weight and you have firm, elastic skin and good muscle tone
  • You do not have a life-threatening illness or medical condition
  • You are a non-smoker
  • You’re got a healthy outlook on life, regardless of your weight

Who cannot have Liposuction?

Your doctor may not consider you a good candidate for liposuction if you have a chronic health condition. Liposuction can cause additional health complications for people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease.

Diabetics are especially poor candidates for liposuction because removing excess fat can alter insulin production and change the way your body absorbs fat.

Poor circulation is also a health risk that will most likely disqualify you as a candidate for liposuction. That’s because you need adequate circulation to perform the liposuction procedure safely and aid in the recovery process.

One other factor that doctors consider before approving liposuction is the elasticity of your skin. Older patients or extremely overweight people may no longer be able to maintain skin elasticity needed to stretch and adjust after removing excess body fat.

And it’s important to keep in mind that liposuction is considered a cosmetic procedure, but not a weight loss procedure. In fact, a study published in the journal Obesity found that most patients regain all of the fat removed from liposuction within a year.

And a study on liposuction published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the cosmetic procedure to remove excess fat did not help lower blood pressure, blood sugar levels, insulin levels, or cholesterol.

If you need to lose weight to protect your health, you need to follow a healthy eating plan and exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day, before you’re a candidate for liposuction.

The Procedure

If your doctor approves you for liposuction surgery, here’s what you can expect:

  • On the day of your liposuction surgery, you’ll go to a hospital or clinic for the procedure. Your doctor will mark your body with a pen to create a map of where excess fat will be removed
  • You’ll receive local or general anesthesia prior to the procedure to minimize pain associated with liposuction. Talk to your doctor about your options. Liposuction can be performed while you are awake, but your doctor may recommend putting you to sleep for the procedure. Large volumes of liquid (salt water and an anti-bleeding drug) will also be injected into the areas where fat will be removed
  • Your doctor will make a small incision in the area(s) where excess fat will be removed and insert a hollow pen-like tool called a “cannula”. The doctor will move the cannula back and forth to suction out fat deposits and an intravenous line will keep your body and tissues hydrated throughout the procedure
  • After the procedure, you’ll wear tight garments over the areas that where excess fat was removed for a few weeks. Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic medication to prevent infection following the surgery. And you may need to limit your level of physical activity for a few weeks

Possible Complications Arising from Liposuction

The most common side effect of liposuction is pain and tenderness where the incision is made to insert the cannula and the area where excess fat was removed. For most patients, this subsides a few days after surgery.

But as with any surgery, developing an infection is always a risk. You’ll take an antibiotic after liposuction surgery to minimize the risk of infection, but there’s still a risk that you could develop a bacterial infection.

When liposuction was a relatively new cosmetic procedure in the 1990s, some deaths and serious complications occurred with liposuction. Fortunately, improvements in the procedure techniques and tools have greatly reduced complications according to a study in published in the journal Dermatologic Surgery. However, other possible complications associated with liposuction may include:

  • An allergic reaction to the medications used during surgery
  • Damage to the skin tissue and appearance caused by the cannula
  • A puncture to the intestines or other internal organ during surgery
  • Poor skin elasticity or an irregular contour or appearance where excess fat was removed
  • Fluid imbalance or retention that can damage the heart, lungs, and kidneys
  • A blocked artery or embolism caused by fat moving through blood vessels and arteries
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