Liposuction surgery, also known as lipoplasty, is a method of body sculpting. The surgeon removes excess fat from under the skin to improve the contour and proportions of various parts of your body. Liposuction surgery can target the hips, buttocks, thighs, back, abdomen, knees, calves, ankles, upper arms, cheeks and neck. The main advantage of liposuction surgery compared with other weight loss techniques is that it is immediate and permanent, assuming your weight stays stable.

This article on liposuction surgery is written by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

Is it right for me?

Liposuction is most effective if you have excess fat in a specific part of your body. This may be due to fat distribution that you have inherited and/or that does not respond to diet or exercise. You are an ideal candidate for liposuction surgery if you:

  • have firm skin and good muscle tone
  • are within 30% of your ideal weight
  • do not have a terminal illness or other medical condition
  • don’t smoke
  • have a specific goal in mind for body contouring.

It is important to realise that liposuction surgery is not a miracle cure that will turn your body into that of a supermodel. Liposuction surgery is not a treatment for obesity, nor is it very effective at getting rid of cellulite. You should also never see it as a replacement or an alternative for a healthy diet and regular exercise. Liposuction surgery removes fat and not loose skin; if you are older with less elastic skin, surgery to remove fat can leave you with flaps and folds of droopy skin, which may need further cosmetic surgery.

What to expect

There are three types of anaesthesia that can be used for liposuction surgery: local, regional, and general anaesthetic. Which type you should choose depends on:

  • which surgery technique you choose
  • how much fat will be removed
  • where on your body the surgery will be done
  • your level of pain tolerance.

At the start of liposuction surgery, the surgeon injects a wetting solution into the area of fat to be removed. This wetting fluid contains saline, adrenaline, which constricts blood vessels to avoid excess blood loss, and a local anaesthetic (if you’ve selected this option).

The two main techniques

  • Tumescent liposuction surgery: This is the most common liposuction method used today. After the fluid has been injected, the surgeon makes a small cut in your skin near the area of fat that is to be removed. A narrow metal tube, or cannula, is then inserted into the cut. The cannula is then moved back and forth to suction the fat cells out via a strong vacuum pump that is attached to it via a flexible pipe.

  • Ultrasonic liposuction surgery: Instead of inserting a plain cannula, the surgeon inserts a thin rod that emits high-frequency ultrasonic energy into the area of fat to be removed. These sound waves liquefy the fat cells before they are sucked out by the vacuum pump.

In both cases, the incisions made in the skin are closed with stitches after the liposuction surgery is finished.

What to expect after the surgery

After liposuction surgery, you can expect pain and swelling in the affected area for several days. In some cases, a drain is temporarily inserted into the skin incisions so that fluids and residual fatty deposits can empty out.

You may need to wear an elasticised bandage for several weeks. This compresses the affected area and controls swelling and bruising. Usually, you will be encouraged to move soon after the surgery to stimulate blood circulation and reduce the risk of blood clots developing. Depending on the amount of fat that has been removed, you’ll usually be able to normal activity within a few days of your liposuction surgery, although you should avoid strenuous activity for at least three weeks.

Depending on how extensive the procedure was, you may see preliminary results within a week of having liposuction, but the full effects could take six months to become apparent.

The risks

If done properly, liposuction is a relatively safe procedure. However, depending on the extent of the fat to be removed, some of the more serious risks include:

  • Infection
  • Shock
  • Blood complications, including blood clots and haematoma (when blood collects in the affected area)
  • Fluid imbalances which can lead to lung, heart and kidney problems
  • Damage to nerves, blood vessels, muscles, lungs, and abdominal organs.

You are more at risk of these complications if you have an underlying medical condition such as heart or lung disease, diabetes or poor circulation, or have recently had surgery in the same area that is being targeted by your liposuction surgery. Because of this, you should discuss your medical history with your doctor and weigh the risks of liposuction surgery against your personal circumstances and the potential benefits you stand to gain.

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