Q: What happens during liposuction?
A: Liposuction removes fat from your body but leaves the overlying skin intact. During liposuction, small, thin, blunt-tipped cannulas are inserted through tiny cuts in the skin. Fat is suctioned out through these cannulas as the doctor moves them around under the skin to target specific fat deposits.
In recent years, improved techniques have made liposuction safer, easier, and less painful. These newer techniques include:
Tumescent liposuction. First, you are given a local anesthetic to numb the area of your body where the tube will be inserted. Next, a large amount of an anesthetic fluid containing local anesthetic is injected into the fatty tissue before traditional liposuction is performed. The solution makes the fat expand and become firmer, which allows the cannula to move more smoothly under the skin. It also causes the blood vessels to temporarily shrink, which greatly reduces bruising after the procedure. With the large volume of anesthetic solution injected, tumescent liposuction may not require general anesthesia (which makes you sleep through the procedure). It also reduces swelling and pain after the procedure.
Ultrasound-assisted (ultrasonic) tumescent liposuction. This technique uses energy created by ultrasound to liquefy the fat before it is removed. The cannulas move more smoothly under the skin after the fat has been liquefied, so this technique may be particularly helpful in areas where the fat is very firm or fibrous—such as the sides, the back, male breasts, and the area around the navel—or when removing large amounts of fat. Ultrasound-assisted liposuction may take more time to perform than standard tumescent liposuction.
Power-assisted liposuction. Similar to traditional liposuction, but makes the procedure easier and sometimes faster due to a power hand-held device that moves the cannula.
Q: What should I expect after treatment?
A: After the procedure, the area of the body that was treated is firmly wrapped to help reduce swelling, bruising, and pain. Elastic bandages and tape, support hose, a special girdle, or another type of firm-fitting garment may be used, depending on which part of the body was treated. You may have to wear the compression garment or wrap for 2 to 4 weeks. Expect some bruising and swelling for at least the first 7 to 10 days. Fluid may drain from the incision sites for 1 to 2 days.
Most people are able to get up and move around as soon as the treatment is finished and after the effects of the anesthesia and any sedation have worn off. You can return to your normal activities as soon as you feel comfortable, although this may take several days to 1 week. Most people can return to work within a few days. Recovery may take longer if large areas were treated.
Q: Why is this procedure done?
A: The main purpose of liposuction is to reshape one or more areas of your body, not to reduce body weight. Liposuction is typically used on "problem" areas that have not responded well to diet and exercise. These areas are often on the outer thighs and hips on women and the waist and back on men. The face, neck, abdomen, back, buttocks, legs, and upper arms are all commonly treated areas.
Liposuction is sometimes used in combination with other cosmetic surgery procedures, such as abdominoplasty, breast reduction, or facelift.
Liposuction is not used to treat obesity. It will not get rid of cellulite or stretch marks.
Q: How well does it work?
A: Liposuction is usually very effective at removing fat deposits in small areas. But if you regain weight after having liposuction, the fatty bulges that were removed are likely to return or may appear in a different place.
Some improvement in body contour is usually noticeable right after surgery, and improvement may continue for several weeks or even months as the swelling goes away. The full effects of having liposuction may not be visible for several months to a year.
Liposuction generally does not tighten the skin over the treated area. After fat has been removed, the skin around the area may be somewhat loose. It may take up to 6 months for the skin to tighten around the treated area. Some people's skin is very elastic and retracts more quickly than other people's skin. Younger skin tends to have greater elasticity than older skin.
People who expect liposuction to help them lose weight are usually disappointed.
Q: What else should I consider?
A: If you are trying to lose weight, liposuction is not a substitute for exercise and a balanced diet. In fact, most plastic surgeons agree that the best candidates for liposuction are healthy people who are at or close to a healthy weight but who have stubborn fat deposits that do not respond to exercise. The results of liposuction can be long lasting if you exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, and maintain a healthy weight after the procedure. When people gain weight after having liposuction, the fatty bulges that were removed often return.