Definition & Overview

Liposuction is a surgical procedure performed by plastic surgeons to remove fat from certain areas of the body. The procedure is performed for cosmetic purposes and not for weight loss or other health reasons.

In the early years of liposuction surgeries, the procedure was performed using a curettage scoop. The method quickly became unpopular due to the high rates of death and other side effects. Today, liposuction has become a much safer procedure due to advancements in technology. Surgeons perform the procedure using technologies such as ultrasound waves and lasers to liquefy the fat before being removed by a suction pump.

Modern methods of liposuction include:

  • Tumescent Liposuction – wherein anesthesia is used to numb the area where the tube is to be inserted. Anesthesia is also introduced to the fatty tissue to be removed before suctioning it out.
  • Ultrasound Liposuction – Ultrasound waves are used to liquefy the fat tissues after which a suction pump removes the liquid fat.
  • Laser Liposuction – The procedure is similar to ultrasound liposuction but uses low energy waves to liquefy fat before removing it by suction.

Who should receive Liposuction treatment

Although liposuction may seem like a quick way to lose body weight by removing fat, the procedure is not recommended to treat obesity. Candidates for this procedure should be within the normal weight range or slightly above. Excess fat that cannot be removed through normal diet and exercise can be removed through liposuction.

It is important to understand that liposuction cannot remove cellulites. Performing the procedure at areas with cellulites can cause skin irregularities thus negating the effects.

Age is not necessarily a factor when considering patients for the procedure, as long as the patient is in good health. However, bear in mind that skin elasticity lessens due to age. After the procedure, it will take a longer time for the skin of older patients to tighten, unlike younger patients who still have elastic skin.

Liposuction cannot be performed on people with heart problems, blood-clotting disorders, or those who are pregnant.

What you need to expect

You will first need to consult a surgeon regarding the procedure. After receiving some basic details about the type of liposuction to be performed, you will undergo a medical background check to ensure that you're healthy enough for the procedure. Your surgeon needs to be aware of any allergies, medications and herbal supplements you are currently taking.

If the surgeon determines that you are a good candidate for liposuction, you will then be asked to refrain from taking alcohol days before the scheduled operation. It is also likely that your diet will be controlled before the procedure.

Liposuction is normally considered a day-surgical procedure, but this will depend on your physical condition and the amount of fat to be removed. You may be required to spend a night at the hospital after the procedure to closely monitor your condition. However, if you are physically fit and do not require a large amount of fat to be removed, you will likely be able to go home to recuperate.

Before the actual surgery, you will be given anesthetic. General anesthesia is mostly used in cases where the surgeon needs to remove large amounts of fat. Once the anesthesia has taken effect, the surgeon will perform a small cut at the targeted area. An ultrasound or laser will be used to liquefy the fat, which is then removed via a suction pump.

The recovery process

The length of time needed for recovery will depend on how much fat was removed. Normally, it will only take a couple of day's rest before you can return to work or to your normal activities. During that time, you will need to wear a compressive garment to prevent the skin from sagging. The skin over the treated area will continue to sag even after a few days. It will take several months before the skin tightens.

You can expect swelling and bruising around the treated area. There will be minor scarring, but in most cases, this will disappear or hardly be noticeable once the wound has fully healed.

The risks involved in Liposuction

Liposuction may have significantly improved over the years, but this does not mean that there are no risks to the procedure. The risks of liposuction include permanent skin discoloration around the treated area, uneven skin surface, and damage to nerves. There is also a risk of damaging internal organs such as the spleen.

After the procedure, you will need to watch your weight carefully. There is a chance that fat will grow in other areas or deep within your body and surrounding your organs. Remember that fat stored near the surface is much less harmful than the type that envelopes the organs. You can prevent this from happening through a good diet and plenty of exercise.

Modern liposuction methods have significantly decreased the rate of deaths due to the procedure. Today, it is very rare that someone would die of liposuction, mostly because surgeons choose the candidates carefully. This is one reason why you should have the procedure performed by a qualified surgeon.

There is also a chance that patients can develop complications after the procedure. These complications include excessive loss of fluids and blood, fat and blood clots that can affect lung functions, fluid build-up, infection, and toxic reactions.

Who should undergo and expected results

Liposuction is a surgical procedure and like any others of that sort, there are risks that you need to consider. However, unlike most surgical procedures, the results of liposuction can usually be achieved through a balanced diet and plenty of exercise. Doing so may take longer, but the effects will be more permanent if you change your current lifestyle. Even if you do decide to undergo liposuction, you will need to change your lifestyle to prevent fat from building up at areas that can threaten your life.

If you're considering liposuction as a treatment for obesity, or to lose weight faster, then you'll be highly disappointed. It takes time and effort to produce a health body and you should consider this option first.

Reference:

  • Liposuction, IN K Wolff by Leonard AL, Hanke CW (2008) and Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine, New York: McGraw-Hill Medical 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2378-2380.
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