Liposuction 101

After Liposuction

­If the pat­ient was under local anesthesia for the procedure, he or she can typically go home within the same day after surgery. General anesthesia often requires an overnight stay at the hospital or surgical center.

After the procedure, many patients have fluid drainage from the liposuction site. Sometimes, doctors need to insert tubes to facilitate that drainage. Often, patients wear a tight-fitting elastic garment over their surgical site to compress the affected area, reduce swelling and promote healing. Patients may also take antibiotics to prevent infection (see How do antibiotics work?).

The stitches in the incision are removed or dissolve after about 10 days. Many patients experience pain, soreness or burning during the healing process, but these symptoms usually go away within three weeks. After about four to six weeks, the swelling should go down enough to see results. Patients need to avoid heavy exercise and other strenuous activity for about a month after the procedure.

Photo courtesy The Santa Barbara Plastic Surgery Center, Dr. David L. Buchanan
Liposuction "before and after" photos
Photo courtesy The Santa Barbara Plastic Surgery Center, Dr. David L. Buchanan

Liposuction is permanent, but it cannot erase obesity. If a person undergoes liposuction and then eats too much and doesn't exercise, he or she will notice a rippling in the treated areas, and the fat will pop up in other parts of the body. This occurs, in part, because of a hormone called leptin, which is made in fat cells. Levels of this hormone drop when fat is removed. That drop triggers an increase in appetite (and therefore food intake) until levels are back up. The problem is especially pronounced in people who were overweight prior to the procedure. To compensate for the lost fat cells, their bodies produce more fat cells in other areas, and fat begins to congregate there. The liposuction procedure can be repeated if necessary, but there is no guarantee that the same effect won't happen again.

The Risks

As with any surgery, liposuction carries some risks. These include:

  • Infection
  • The formation of fat clots or blood clots, which can loosen and move to the lungs (a potentially fatal condition called pulmonary embolism)
  • Too much fluid loss, leading to shock and potentially death
  • Fluid accumulation
  • Nerve damage that causes numbness or changes in sensation
  • Swelling that lasts for several weeks or months after the procedure
  • Skin death (necrosis), in which the skin above the liposuction site sloughs off and dies and/or becomes infected
  • Burns from the ultrasound probe
  • Punctures to the organs (For example, the intestines may be punctured during abdominal liposuction.)
  • Drug reactions, including reactions to the lidocaine fluid that is injected in the tumescent and super-wet techniques
  • Rippling or indentation under the skin if the doctor removes too much fat
  • Scarring (although doctors make every attempt to keep the scars small and hidden)

In rare cases, liposuction can lead to death. Research on the subject is mixed, but estimates range from 3 to 100 deaths per 100,000 liposuction procedures [ref].

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