Checkup on Health: Is liposuction for me?
By Thomas R. Stevenson, M.D.
Does it seem like everyone is getting a liposuction these days? It’s not surprising. Liposuctions are the most commonly performed cosmetic procedure in the U.S.
If you are thinking about liposuction, learn all you can about it first before deciding whether it is right for you. Here are some issues to consider:
What exactly is liposuction?
Dr. Stevenson is chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery at UC Davis Medical Center.
Liposuction is a surgical procedure to remove excess fat. The surgeon makes a small incision in the skin, then inserts a sharp-edged tube that cuts the fat and vacuums it out of the body.
Fluid containing anesthetic and blood-clotting medicines is injected under the skin as part of most procedures. This decreases bleeding, reduces pain, and makes the fat tissue easier to remove. In most cases, general anesthesia to sleep is unnecessary.
Sometimes an ultrasound device is used instead of the conventional, sharp-edged tube. An ultrasound instrument vibrates rapidly, liquefying fat before vacuuming it up. Ultrasound assisted liposuction (UAL) is most appropriate for areas where fat is especially difficult to remove, such as the upper abdomen, back and the male breast.
Who is the ideal candidate?
For those who have bothersome areas of fat that don’t respond to traditional weight loss methods, liposuction can offer a solution.
Liposuction is not a weight reduction technique and will not make an obese person slender. For overall weight loss, diet and exercise are still the best solutions.
Liposuction is most appropriate for someone who is of normal or nearly normal weight with areas of disproportionate fat accumulation. I typically treat women who have excessive fat in their abdomen, hips or thighs and men with too much fat in the breasts.
Those under age 35 years and who have elastic skin fare better, as the skin is more elastic and can conform to the new body shape after fat removal. For older people and those who must have a great deal of fat removed, or in areas with loose skin, other surgical procedures may be combined with liposuction to achieve the best results.
Liposuction alone is not an appropriate procedure for breast reduction for women.
Will my fat come back?
Once fat cells are removed, they are unlikely to regenerate. However, fat cells that remain can increase in size. After liposuction, new weight gain should be more evenly distributed throughout the body and no longer concentrated in areas where the fat was removed. People with the best results control their weight through diet and exercise following surgery.
What is recovery like after surgery?
Usually, the procedure is done in an outpatient setting and the patient goes home on the same day. The patient needs someone to drive him or her home. Most people feel a bit stiff, achy or numb for awhile, but can return to normal activities within a few days. I recommend wearing a special elastic supportive undergarment for three weeks.
Results of the surgery may not be fully apparent for a few months, during which time the added fluid is absorbed and swelling resolves.
What are the risks?
Liposuction is generally a safe procedure, but knowledge of the risks are essential. Deaths have occurred, especially in situations where a great deal of fat or smaller amounts in multiple locations were removed. Chance of blood loss, and the large amounts of anesthetic and fluid involved, makes surgery in those situations especially risky.
People who need a lot of fat removed should be treated in a hospital rather than office or outpatient setting.
How should I choose a doctor?
Doctors from a variety of specialties perform liposuction. Choosing a surgeon certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery Increases the likelihood the procedure will be carried out safely and in accordance with the standards of our profession.
Liposuction is not a reliable way to shed those extra holiday pounds! But for those who have bothersome areas of fat that don’t respond to traditional weight loss methods, liposuction can offer a solution.