Liposuction is a procedure in which deposits of fat are removed to reshape or reduce one or more areas of the body. Common areas targeted include thighs, buttocks, abdomen, arms, neck and under the chin. This operation is also known as suction-assisted lipectomy or lipoplasty.
Liposuction is not a substitute for weight reduction or a cure for obesity. It is also not an effective treatment for cellulite (dimpled skin that typically appears on the thighs, hips and buttocks) or for loose, saggy skin.
Body image concerns are the main reason people consider liposuction. Some people of normal weight have localised pockets of fat that don’t respond to diet or exercise. These areas of fat deposits may be due to family traits rather than a lack of weight control or fitness. Liposuction slims and reshapes these specific areas of the body by removing excess fat deposits, and improving body contours and proportion.
Other people have liposuction performed on them to remove breast tissue (gynaecomastia) or treat posttraumatic pseudolipoma (swelling that resembles a lipoma).
Suitability for liposuction
Liposuction is best suited to people with a healthy weight and firm, elastic skin, who have pockets of fat in certain areas.
To be suitable for liposuction you must:
be physically healthy
be psychologically stable
be aware of the limitations of this operation
have realistic expectations.
Although age is not a significant concern, older people may have less skin elasticity and may not achieve the same results as a younger person with tighter skin.
Before you choose liposuction, there are some important issues to keep in mind, including:
Liposuction is suitable if you have bulges that persist despite a healthy diet and exercise. It is not a substitute for weight loss.
If your skin is dimpled before the liposuction, it will probably still be dimpled afterwards.
If the ‘extra’ skin doesn’t contract (tighten) after liposuction, you may need a further procedure to remove excess skin.
The final results may take a few months to emerge, so it is important to wait before making any decisions about the necessity for further surgery.
Smokers are at increased risk of complications. If you are serious about undergoing cosmetic surgery, you should try to quit smoking.
The length of the treatment will depend on the technique chosen and the amount of fat to be removed.
If only a small amount of fat and a limited number of body sites are involved, liposuction can be performed under local anaesthesia, which numbs only the affected areas. Some people prefer general anaesthesia, particularly if a large volume of fat is being removed.
The exact operation will depend on the specific liposuction technique used but, in general, the steps include:
A tiny incision (cut) is made and a sterile liquid solution is given (infused) directly into the vein to reduce bleeding and trauma.
A cannula (thin, hollow tube) is inserted.
The cannula is pushed and pulled through the fat layer using a controlled back and forth motion to break up the fat cells.
The dislodged fat is then suctioned out of the body using a surgical vacuum pump or large syringe attached to the cannula.
The person continues to be given intravenous fluids (directly into the vein) during and immediately after surgery to replace the fluids lost when the fat is removed.
Depending on the number of areas receiving treatment, the procedure can take up to two to four hours.
In some cases, liposuction is performed alone.
In other cases, it is used with other surgeries such as a facelift, breast reduction or ‘tummy tuck’.
A follow-up operation may sometimes be recommended to reduce excess skin. This may occur when large amounts of fat – usually more than five litres – are suctioned.
After the operation, you may expect:
bruising and swelling
possible numbness and minor pain
to be given antibiotics to prevent infection
insertion of a small drainage tube – this may be inserted beneath the skin for a couple of days to prevent fluid build-up
to start walking around as soon as possible – your doctor may advise this to reduce swelling and help prevent blood clots from forming in your legs
to wear a pressure garment – this may need to be worn over the treated area for about a week after surgery to control swelling and help the skin adjust to the new underlying shape.
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Complications of liposuction
All surgery carries some degree of risk. The risks of liposuction increase if a large number of body areas are treated at the same time or if the areas operated on are large in size.
Some of the possible complications of liposuction may include:
(from ultrasound-assisted liposuction) thermal burn or other heat injury to the skin or deeper tissues from the ultrasound device that is used to liquefy fat cells
(from tumescent and super-wet liposuction with complications caused by the injection of anaesthetic fluid) lignocaine toxicity (if the solution’s lignocaine content is too high) or collection of fluid in the lungs (if too much fluid is given)
excessive fluid loss, which can lead to shock
infection – this is a serious complication, as infections that develop in fatty tissues are difficult to treat
friction burns or other damage to the skin or nerves
irregular skin surface, uneven contours or rippling
asymmetric or ‘baggy’ skin surface
change in skin sensation or numbness
skin pigmentation changes, skin discolouration or swelling
damage to deeper structures such as nerves, blood vessels, muscles, lungs and abdominal organs
pain, which may be ongoing
allergic reactions to medications
formation of blood clots or fat clots, which may migrate to the lungs and cause death
persistent swelling in the legs
deep vein thrombosis, cardiac and pulmonary complications.
"Any Surgical or Invasive Procedures carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.”