Is Liposuction Dangerous? What To Expect, Risks, And More

Written By
 
Megan Apa
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January 8, 2024

What is Liposuction?

Liposuction, colloquially known as lipoplasty or body contouring is a surgical procedure in which a suction technique is used to remove fat from specific parts of the body. Common areas to administer liposuction include the arms, thighs, abdomen, hips, buttocks and neck. Liposuction can be a great way to remove stubborn fat in individuals who maintain a generally healthy weight. Just like any other surgical procedure, liposuction comes with both medical and aesthetic risks that patients should be made aware of prior to undergoing the operation. Liposuction is however fairly routine for experienced plastic surgeons and when performed by talented professionals, patients are mostly satisfied with the outcome.

What to Expect

Depending on the area of the body that is being treated, liposuction can have different effects and recovery times. Some procedures are performed in an outpatient center, while others require a hospital stay. Liposuction is performed under general anesthesia. A highly qualified anesthesiologist will determine the proper dosing to safely provide that will keep you unconscious for the duration of the surgery. After coming out of the anesthesia you will likely be in pain as well as feel pain and/or general discomfort during the recovery phase. All of this is a completely normal part of the process and nothing to be concerned about. Your doctor will be able to discuss treatments to make your post-surgery pain more manageable. It’s common to experience swelling, pain, bruising, numbness and soreness after liposuction.

The Best Candidate

To keep the risk level at a minimum, patients will be evaluated during the consultation to ensure they maintain a low level of risk and will be likely to achieve best possible outcomes. Good candidates are not overweight, do not smoke, have good skin elasticity, have muscle tone, are generally healthy and most importantly have stubborn fat areas that are not seeming to go away through natural means of fat loss. Good candidates for liposuction are:

  • Stubborn fat deposits where diet or exercise does not work
  • Not a lot of excess skin
  • Has skin elasticity
  • Muscle tone
  • Not overweight or obese (BMI under 30)
  • Does not smoke
  • Good physical shape and overall health

Is liposuction right for you?

Risks

Liposuction, like other cosmetic procedures, will have both medical and aesthetic risks. Medical risks are those which can be compromising to your health, while aesthetic risks are those which alter the way you look without harming your overall health.

Medical Risks:

Seroma

Seroma is a build up of fluid which can occur after liposuction. A common reason for this to happen is damage to the lymphatics caused by the cannula, which is the instrument used to remove the fat. Smaller seromas can be absorbed back into the body naturally but larger ones have the potential to become infected requiring medical attention.

Anesthesia Reaction

Liposuction requires you go under general anesthesia which can vary in length of time depending on the area treated. Anesthesia always poses mild to severe risks. During your consultation, your surgeon will determine whether you are a good candidate for general anesthesia to avoid any major risks.

Lidocaine Reaction

Lidocaine is the most commonly used drug in liposuction, it reduces pain by blocking the signal from nerve endings to the brain. Although lidocaine is safe for most people, it may cause adverse side effects in some. If you have experienced any reaction to lidocaine in the past it is critical that you discuss this with your doctor.

Infection

While not common, infection is always a risk with liposuction. Too much movement or pressure on the area too soon after surgery can be the leading risk factor in becoming infected. To avoid this from happening, it is crucial that the patient follows post-surgical care guidelines.

Fat Embolism

Fat Embolism is when fat becomes trapped in the blood vessel and travels through the bloodstream to major organs. Fat embolism occurs when fat that has been broken up is carried to another part of the body by the blood stream. This is one of the more dangerous risks of liposuction and requires urgent medical attention.

Internal Puncture

Though extremely rare, it is possible for a cannula to puncture an internal organ by getting too close to it during the removal of fat. This requires urgent care.

Aesthetic Risks:

Scarring

Because your subcutaneous layer is being penetrated during the procedure, some scarring will be inevitable; however, a skilled surgeon will use techniques that conceal scarring in less visible places. Your doctor will also suggest a post-surgical care routine designed to minimize scarring. Ask about topical creams to help reduce any scarring. Also protect any scars from exposure to the sun. With appropriate care and time, they fade into minor blemishes.

Loose Skin

Loose skin may occur after liposuction as a result of the fat removal. Older patients and patients with less skin elasticity are at the highest risk of having loose skin after the procedure. There are however ways this can be treated including additional surgery or even by toning the muscles underneath.

Irregular Contouring

An uneven distribution of subcutaneous fat pockets is a common complication in liposuction. To mitigate the risk, it's important to find an experienced and highly-qualified surgeon who will be able to create the most flattering contours possible.Also, don’t forget to wear liposuction compression garments for better results.

What are the long-term side effects of liposuction?

Beware: fat may return after liposuction. The long-term effects of liposuction are not always positive. Liposuction permanently removes fat cells from the targeted areas of the body. Therefore, if you gain weight, the fat will be stored in different parts of the body. This new fat can appear deeper under the skin, and it can be dangerous if it grows around the heart or liver. Permanent nerve damage and changes to skin sensation are possible risks of liposuction. Some patients may develop depressions or indentations in the areas that were suctioned, or may have bumpy or wavy skin that doesn’t go away.

Weighing the Risk and Reward

Like with any invasive surgery, liposuction comes with its own set of risks and risk level which varies from patient to patient. Liposuction is generally safe especially when performed by a highly skilled surgeon in a facility that meets all healthy and safety standards.  When it comes to surgery, understanding the risks and trusting a skilled surgeon is your best defence against complications. There are always risks when going under the knife, but with careful planning and close attention to detail, you can minimize a lot of those risks. A patient’s best protection during surgery is someone in their corner – who will be there for them before, during and after an operation.