It is encouraging, Bruner says, that more recent statistics from The Doctor's Company, an insurance company located in California, show that no liposuction-related deaths have been reported there in the last 18 months. However, he notes, this survey only addresses what's happening among board-certified plastic surgeons, not with other doctor groups performing liposuction.
Deaths among liposuction patients can happen for a number of reasons, Bruner says, including thromboembolism, or a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the pelvis or legs. "That can happen during any surgery," he adds, "and I wish I could say that it is always preventable, but it is not."
Next, he cites perforation of the abdominal wall or bowels, the latter being especially serious. "If you perforate the bowel, there's a high mortality rate if it's not fixed in the first 24 to 48 hours," he says. Physicians are essentially blind as they perform liposuction because they can't see what is in front of the cannula, notes FDA's Horbowyj.
Finally, Bruner notes that shock and hemodilution, or diluting of the blood, may lead to a patient's death. This can occur when patients have had large amounts of fluids injected and then both fat and fluids removed, about 11 pounds worth in all during a larger-scale procedure.
Further, although virtually no hard data exist, says Bruner, he and others worry that too much lidocaine may also lead to death. Lidocaine use poses particular hazards, especially since experts do not agree on safe injectable levels. "If you get too much lidocaine for too long," says Bruner, "the heart muscles become lazy. On the other hand, the brain becomes very agitated at first, which may cause a seizure, before coma sets in."
At least one study links possible lidocaine toxicity to liposuction deaths, says Horbowyj, adding that people with less than normal liver function or those who have been drinking alcohol may not be able to metabolize lidocaine well.