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A patient's guide to cosmetic surgery sponsored by Nuffield Health

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Nuffield Health, a leading provider of cosmetic surgery in the UK, with a network of 30 private hospitals across the country.

Cosmetic surgery

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Liposuction and body shaping guide


Liposuction is a versatile cosmetic surgery technique that can be used to accurately contour body shape. It can be used in men and women for those difficult areas of fatty tissue that are almost impossible to change through diet and exercise. Liposuction is not a treatment for obesity or a sedentary lifestyle – if you are generally overweight with very little muscle definition, liposuction is not your first option. Nor is it able to lessen the appearance of stretch marks or to remove cellulite.

Why consider liposuction?

If you have reduced your body weight to a healthy level and have been doing regular exercise for a while to tone up your shape but then find you have areas of fatty tissue that you just can’t shift, liposuction could help you attain the body shape you want. Men and women differ in the areas of the body that develop fat that is difficult to diet or exercise away:

  • In women, areas that liposuction can help sculpt include the buttocks, hips, thighs, lower abdomen and upper arms. Liposuction can help remove saddlebags and love handles, for example.
  • In men, enlarged breasts (gynaecomastia) are treated by liposuction. Other areas of the body that can be improved include the midriff, thighs and buttocks.

Cancer patients of both sexes who develop lymphoedema after cancer surgery can also benefit from liposuction. In these cases, this cosmetic procedure may be available within the National Health Service.

What does liposuction involve?

If you are having liposuction on a small area of the body you may have the procedure with a local anaesthetic but it is more usual to have either a general anaesthetic or an epidural (an anaesthetic injected into the spine to numb the lower body.

  • Once you are in theatre and have had the anaesthetic, the cosmetic surgeon will then prepare the fatty tissue for removal. The technique varies with different surgeons and different centres but can involve injecting a strong salt solution, local anaesthetic and the hormone adrenalin. This is done to reduce the amount of swelling and bruising that you get afterwards.
  • The cosmetic surgeon may also use mechanical techniques to break up the fat – using a pulsed laser, a strong water jet or an ultrasound probe that emits high energy sound waves.
  • The main part of the liposuction procedure is then performed. The cosmetic surgeon introduces a thin tube called a microcannula through small incisions in the skin around the area of fat that needs to be removed. This is attached to a strong suction pump and the excess fat is literally sucked out of the body. This has to be done with care to avoid damaging blood vessels, nerves and major organs.

What to expect after liposuction

The amount of pain and swelling you have will depend on the area that has been treated. If you have had extensive liposuction of the abdomen, you will probably have drains for the first 24 to 48 hours after liposuction to remove the excess fluid. You may be allowed to go home the same day or you might have to stay in hospital overnight – it is unusual to have to stay longer.

The small entry points for the liposuction microcannula will have been stitched, usually with stitches that dissolve over the next two weeks and you will have a compression bandage over the treated area. You will feel sore and your tissues will be swollen so you might be given a compression vest or stockings to help.

Recovery can take two weeks before you can return to normal activities and work but you need to avoid strenuous exercise, lifting and manual work for about six weeks, particularly after abdominal liposuction. It will take several months before the final results become obvious and you can see your final new body contour.

What risks are involved in liposuction?

All types of cosmetic surgery carry the risks of bleeding and infection but major liposuction can also carry the following specific risks:

  • Scarring, swelling or severe bruising. This will depend on your body’s reaction to tissue damage and any medications you have been taking beforehand. If you need to take anti-inflammatory drugs, for example, these can increase your tendency to bleed and bruising will be worse.
  • Problems with blood vessels. People who have liposuction on the thighs are at higher risk of developing inflammation of the leg veins (thrombophlebitis) or obstruction of a leg vein with a blood clot (thrombosis).
  • Problems with the skin. If you have treatment to break up the fat prior to liposuction, this can cause marks. Damage to nerves in the skin can lead to loss of sensation and numbness, which may not recover fully.
  • Lumpiness under the skin. This can persist even after months of healing.
  • Problems with major organs. If you have liposuction to the abdomen, a rare risk is that the microcannula will slip inside the body and puncture the intestines or damage major organs such as the kidneys or liver.

What does liposuction cost?

Typical range in a UK private hospital or clinic is £1,000.00 - £5,134.00.

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