Liposuction And Weight Loss: Understanding The Risks And Benefits

Commonly known as "lipo", liposuction is a surgical procedure that removes excess body fat to help you achieve your desired physique. While it can be performed on many areas of the body, liposuction is most commonly sought to reduce fat on the hips, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, and back. Some people choose to have the procedure to reduce fat in the neck and chin areas, too.

As with any surgical procedure, it’s important to get as much information as you can and understand the risks as well as the potential benefits before you go ahead.

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How does liposuction work?

Liposuction is typically performed at an outpatient medical center by a surgeon with extensive training in plastic surgery, general surgery, otolaryngology, facial plastic surgery, or another type of surgery.

The procedure typically takes between one and two hours and is sometimes repeated at a later date to achieve the desired results. Here’s a look at how liposuction works:

  1. Target areas are marked: Before the procedure, the surgeon will mark or confirm the areas of your body that will be treated.

  2. Anesthesia is administered: Because the procedure is invasive, it will either be performed under general or local anesthetic.

  3. A small incision is made: Once you have been anesthetized, your surgeon will make a small incision in your target area.

  4. A cannula is inserted: Your surgeon will insert a long, thin suction tool to strategically remove fat from the area being treated.

  5. Suctioned fat is collected: The fat is removed from your body and pumped into a collection canister.

  6. Bandages are applied: After all target areas have been successfully treated, the incisions will be bandaged and wrapped to aid healing and recovery.

In most cases, patients can expect to go home on the same day as the procedure. You should plan to have a friend or family member available to take you home as you may still feel drowsy from the anesthetic. Make sure you carefully review and follow the aftercare instructions provided by your surgeon.

What are the benefits of liposuction?

Most people who have liposuction are pleased with the results. Survey data indicates that 80% of patients are satisfied¹ with the results, with over half of respondents rating their appearance after the procedure as either "very good" or "excellent".

When properly performed by a well-trained and qualified surgeon, liposuction offers a variety of benefits, including the following:

  • A slimmer physique: Liposuction can help to reduce or eliminate unwanted saddlebags, back fat, and stomach bulges.

  • Modest weight loss: You can expect to lose up to several pounds depending on the amount of fat your surgeon removes.

  • Increased self-esteem: Many people experience restored confidence and a boost in their self-esteem following the procedure.

  • Less chafing: Removing excess fat from the thighs and upper arms can help to eliminate painful chafing caused by skin friction.

  • Immediate results: Because liposuction is completed in a single day, you can see the results of your treatment right away.

  • More clothing options: By helping you to achieve your desired body shape, liposuction can enable you to wear clothes that you were previously unable or hesitant to wear.

What are the risks of liposuction?

While the majority of patients don’t experience any problems during or after the procedure, it’s important to recognize that liposuction presents some risks. To protect your health and wellbeing, take the time to understand the potential risks prior to receiving liposuction treatment.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) offers a practice advisory that outlines some of the possible complications of liposuction². These are:

  • Hematomas: Liposuction is an invasive procedure that can damage blood vessels and cause a severe bruise, called a hematoma, to develop.

  • Infection: A skin infection may develop around the incision site in the days following the procedure. This may cause soreness, a fever, or in serious cases, sepsis.

  • Skin necrosis: This occurs when liposuction damages the vascular supply to the skin surrounding the incision, causing the skin to die.

  • Contour defects: The skin may develop a bumpy or wavy appearance. This might occur if the fat is not removed in a consistent or uniform way.

  • Skin perforations: In isolated cases, aggressive or improper treatment may cause perforations in the skin or internal organs.

  • Thermal injury: Some patients experience "liposuction burn", or thermal injury as a result of overly harsh cannula usage.

  • Complications from anesthesia: A small percentage of patients have an allergic reaction to the anesthetic used during the procedure.

  • Fat embolism: This can occur if loose fat enters the bloodstream and blocks the flow of blood.

While these complications are rare, the ASPS notes that the level of risk increases with the number of areas that are treated in addition to the total volume of fat extracted. This is why a plastic surgeon may limit the total number of areas treated during a single session.

How much weight can you lose with liposuction?

You can expect to lose two to five pounds on the day of your liposuction procedure.

If you had expected to lose more weight with liposuction, please remember that the procedure’s primary goal is to improve the body's contours. Liposuction is not designed to achieve massive weight loss. If your primary goal is to lose a large amount of weight quickly, there are other methods you may want to consider, and a weight loss physician will be able to advise you.

Who is a good candidate for liposuction?

The majority of people who seek liposuction are approved to receive the procedure—however, some people are better candidates for liposuction than others. Everyone is different, so this usually has to do with the risks involved and whether or not the treatment can help an individual to achieve their goals. In isolated cases, a surgeon may refuse to carry out the procedure because the person is not a good candidate.

Here are some qualities that suggest you might be a good fit for liposuction:

  • You are in good physical health. Non-smokers without medical conditions are good candidates.

  • You are not obese. Liposuction tends to yield better results when patients are within 30% of their healthy weight.

  • Your treatment goals are realistic. You realize that liposuction is not a magic bullet that will deliver massive weight loss.

  • You have a healthy lifestyle. People who follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly are good candidates.

  • Your skin elasticity is excellent. This means your skin can stretch and then return to its original form quickly.

  • You have time to recover. Recovering from liposuction takes time. Most people need one to two weeks to recover before returning to work.

What is a liposuction consultation and why is it so important?

A liposuction consultation is the initial meeting you will have with your liposuction doctor. The meeting’s main objective is to determine whether you are a good candidate for the procedure. Your doctor will assess your current physical health and examine your medical history. You can expect to be asked a series of questions about any past surgeries, medications, allergies, and any current health conditions.

The consultation is important because it offers you the chance to speak to your doctor directly about your treatment goals and expectations. It is the perfect time to ask questions, share concerns, and talk through any reservations you may have about the procedure itself or the recovery process. It's a good idea to make a list of any questions you have before heading to your consultation so that you can maximize your time.

The lowdown

You might be an ideal candidate for liposuction, but if you don’t select a qualified liposuction doctor with a proven track record of success, you may be disappointed with your results.

Before you move forward with your procedure, be sure to check the surgeon’s qualifications to ensure they have the proper education and experience to perform your procedure. While any licensed physician may legally offer liposuction, look for doctors who have the following specific qualifications³:

  • Extensive hands-on training in liposuction techniques

  • The ability to diagnose and treat cardiovascular problems should they arise

  • Comprehensive training on minimizing the risk of infection

Finally, it's always a good idea to request references and contact them. Proceed with care and take the time to educate yourself about the procedure. This way, you can shorten your recovery time and achieve the results you want.

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