Liposuction is the surgical "vacuuming" of fat from beneath the surface of the skin. A special fat extractor (a thin hollow stainless steel tube) known as a cannula is inserted into the fatty areas between the skin and muscle through small incisions in the skin. The cannula creates tiny tunnels, breaks up the fat cells, and loosens them so they can be removed by a high pressure vacuum attached to the end of the cannula.
Examples of liposuction techniques include:
Liposuction is one of the most commonly performed surgical cosmetic procedures done in the country, and has a high patient satisfaction index. Liposuction is a good method of spot reduction, but is not an effective method of weight loss.
Kellie Gray, a 25-year-old salon owner from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, says, "I had 800 CCs (cubic centimeters) removed from my hips and outer thighs. My clothes fit better now and people keep asking, 'Are you losing weight?'"
Immediately following the surgery, Gray says she experienced a burning sensation in her legs, along with some swelling, soreness, bruising, and small scars that are hardly noticeable today. The worst part of liposuction, says Gray, was the pain, which, she adds, was not bad enough to dissuade her from doing it again. She also did not like wearing the compression garment, which is a fancy girdle that is commonly worn for a few weeks afterwards to help reduce the swelling and to shrink the skin. Four weeks after the surgery, Gray's pants size had shrunk from a size 10 to a 6.
Kim McIntosh of Kinston, North Carolina had a similarly successful outcome. At 35 years old, she had liposuction on her thighs, stomach, and waist.
"I had soft, fatty thighs and no shape in the waist," says McIntosh. She says the results were even better than she expected, although she did take medicine to manage the pain. "The liposuction made a world of difference in how I looked, moved, wore my clothes—and in my self-esteem," McIntosh adds.
Leah Carlson, 42, of South Lake Tahoe, California, was not as fortunate. After losing 120 pounds, Carlson still felt her hips and thighs were out of proportion, so she signed up for liposuction.
Contrary to her doctor's promises, Carlson's first liposuction surgery did not produce noticeable results.
"I was disappointed and the doctor was disappointed and completely confounded how he could have removed so much fat without any apparent change," says Carlson. "A few months later he offered to do another surgery at no charge. He thought that all of the weight that I had lost caused me to have very fibrous fat, and he wanted to try a new tool with which he had achieved excellent results."
The second liposuction procedure for Carlson proved a disaster.
"The surgeon used a cannula he was not trained to use. My lymphatic and vascular systems were destroyed, causing the tissue in both inner thighs to die," explains Carlson. Eventually gangrene set in and she was fighting for her life. Corrective procedures led to more than four years of medical troubles, such as leg circulation problems, which make it painful to stand, and leg swelling, which makes it difficult to sit.
Carlson is convinced the biggest factor to her botched liposuction experience was her doctor. "I believed that if a doctor was able to perform a procedure, he must be well-trained. I assumed there were laws to make sure that was the case," says Carlson.
Finding and choosing a qualified doctor is critical. Liposuction is a buyer beware market. To improve your chances of a satisfactory experience, follow these tips:
Before you decide to undertake the expense (most insurance does not pay) and the risk, you may want to rethink your motivation. Although liposuction may seem like a quick fix, it is still a surgical procedure that carries with it a risk of complications.
American Board of Plastic Surgery
American Society of Plastic Surgeons
The Canadian Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery
The Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons
Choose a surgeon you can trust. American Society of Plastic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/liposuction.html?sub=Choose%20a%20surgeon%20you%20can%20trust. Accessed January 23, 2013.
Lipoplasty words to know. American Society of Plastic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/liposuction.html?sub=Lipoplasty%20words%20to%20know. Accessed January 23, 2013.
Liposuction. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery website. Available at: http://www.surgery.org/consumers/procedures/body/liposuction. Accessed January 23, 2013.
Liposuction information. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/SurgeryandLifeSupport/Liposuction/default.htm. Updated February 2, 2012. Accessed January 23, 2013.
What to expect during your liposuction consultation. American Society of Plastic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/liposuction.html?sub=What%20to%20expect%20during%20your%20liposuction%20consultation. Accessed January 23, 2013.
Last reviewed January 2013 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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