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Alternative Names
suction lipectomy

Liposuction is a procedure used to remove unwanted fat from specific areas of the body. Liposuction may be done on the buttocks, abdomen, thighs, hips, knees, upper arms, cheeks, neck, or chin.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?
The best candidates for liposuction are people of average weight. They should have firm, elastic skin with pockets of fat they want removed. Candidates need to be in good physical health.

The point of this procedure is to remove pockets of fat. Liposuction is not a method of dieting. It does not take the place of exercise and healthy eating in weight reduction. It is used to remove stubborn pockets of fat that do not go away with regular exercise and dieting. Older people may not respond to liposuction as well as younger people. Older people's skin may not be as tight. Those who have diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease may be at risk for complications during liposuction. Candidates should ask their surgeon about his or her qualifications

How is the procedure performed?
Liposuction begins with a tiny incision made through the skin. A tube, or cannula, is then inserted into the fat layer just beneath the skin. The cannula is used to vacuum out the fat layer. The tube is pushed and pulled back and forth through the fat layer, and the fat goes up through the narrow tube. The surgeon will use a vacuum pump or large syringe to pull the fragments of fat tissue out of the body. The time liposuction takes depends on how many areas will be worked on, their size, how much fat is in each area, and the type of anaesthesia used.

There are several variations of the procedure:
  • One variation of liposuction is the fluid injection procedure. A mixture of saline (salt) solution, an anaesthetic, and adrenaline is injected into the fat layer. Adrenaline is a drug used to constrict blood vessels, so less blood is lost. The fat is broken up, and then vacuumed out of the body. This procedure reduces blood loss and bruising, offers anaesthesia, and makes it easier for the fat to be removed from the body.
  • In the tumescent type of liposuction, large amounts of fluid are injected into the fat. The fluid has all the necessary anaesthesia in it. This procedure takes longer than traditional liposuction.
  • In super-wet liposuction, an amount of fluid similar to the amount of fat to be removed is injected into the fat. This procedure requires intravenous or general anaesthesia.
  • Ultrasound-assisted lipoplasty (UAL) uses ultrasound to break up the fat. This procedure is often used in fibrous areas of the body, such as the upper back or the male chest.
The type of anaesthesia needed during liposuction can vary quite a bit. A person may just need a local anaesthetic at the site of the procedure, maybe with an intravenous medication to make the person sleepy. In more extensive liposuction, regional anaesthesia may be used. In this case, the lower part of the body is numbed by an injection of anaesthetic into the spinal area. Some people may need a general anaesthetic for extensive liposuction. General anaesthesia means the person is put to sleep with medications.

What happens right after the procedure?
During and right after surgery, the person will be monitored closely for fluid loss. When the fat is broken up and vacuumed out of the body, fluid is also removed. This fluid needs to be replaced during and after the procedure. Otherwise, the person is at risk for shock. After the procedure there may be some drainage from the surgery site. Sometimes a small tube is inserted to drain the excess fluid. A tight-fitting garment may be used to control swelling and help shape the body. The surgeon may prescribe antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection. Pain, swelling, tingling, or numbness may last for a few days to a few weeks after surgery. The body needs several days to several weeks to take shape where the fat pockets were removed.

What happens later at home?
People are asked to walk shortly after surgery to decrease the risk of blood clots in the legs, known as deep venous thrombosis. People may be able to go back to work a few days after liposuction, depending on how extensive it was. Any stitches are usually removed in 7 to 10 days. People may be advised to avoid strenuous activity for up to one month after the procedure. It may take 3 to 6 weeks for bruising and swelling to subside.

What are the potential complications after the procedure?
Liposuction is normally a very safe procedure when done by a skilled, experienced, surgeon. Risks increase as more fat is removed, the area of fat is larger, or the procedure takes more time. Risks include:
  • infection
  • blood clots or fat clots, which can travel to the lungs. Known as a pulmonary embolism, the clot in the lungs can cause death
  • shock from loss of fluid that was not replaced
  • damage to the skin and nerves from the movement of the tube under the skin
  • perforation of organs from the movement of the tube
  • allergic reaction to the medications used for anaesthesia or to break up the fat
  • scarring or sagging of the skin where the incision was made
Any unusual pain, bleeding, fever, weakness, or other symptoms should be reported to the doctor.

Author: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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