Surgeries That Suck: Liposuction Explained

Dr. Christopher McGowan
August 10, 2021

Many people wish there was a way to just push a button and have fat instantly disappear. This idea is, of course, a fantasy, but some procedures claim to come close to this idea. Foremost among these is liposuction. The prospect of having someone literally suck fat cells out of your body may sound a little gruesome, but hundreds of thousands of people every year choose to have a cosmetic surgeon do exactly that. 

It may sound like a miracle to be able to have fat instantly disappear, but there are limitations and complications with liposuction that are very real. Not everyone is a good candidate and there are limits to the amount of tissue that can be removed. Inside these limits, though, this cosmetic procedure can have life-long effects on your appearance provided you do not gain a significant amount of weight again. For those who are still struggling with issues such as compulsive eating that could cause weight regain later in life, liposuction may not be a good option. 

How Does Liposuction Work?

Liposuction, also known as lipoplasty, is a form of cosmetic surgery done under sedation where fat cells are removed from the body during a minor surgical procedure. Liposuction is typically performed under general anesthesia, though sometimes the removal of very small deposits of fat can be done under local anesthetic. Liposuction procedures are typically done in an outpatient setting, though a short hospital stay is sometimes recommended if a significant amount of fat is being removed. 

During a traditional liposuction procedure, a plastic surgeon will make a small incision in the skin of the treatment area and insert a small tube called a cannula. This tube is connected to a powerful suction device that is used to literally suck excess fat out of your body. There are several forms of liposuction that vary slightly in technique or equipment used, but they all generally operate on the same principles of removing fat with suction. 

One of the first alternative liposuction techniques is tumescent liposuction. In this variation, a mixture of saline solution, lidocaine, and epinephrine are injected under the skin to help reduce the chances of bruising and bleeding after your procedure. This tumescent fluid is also used in laser-assisted liposuction.

Another commonly used type of liposuction surgery is power-assisted liposuction where a specialized cannula is used that rapidly moves back and forth to make fat removal easier. Ultrasound-assisted liposuction is also an option for certain areas of the body such as the chest as is the case when treating gynecomastia or in previously targeted areas where liposuction has already been performed in the past.

Liposuction is often done as a stand-alone procedure, but it can also be combined with other cosmetic surgeries such as a tummy tuck, breast reduction, breast augmentation, or other reconstructive cosmetic procedures. 

What Should I Know Before Liposuction?

How well your liposuction will turn out is related to the amount of fat removed. Numbness, scarring, and even dents in the skin in the treated area are all possible, and these outcomes are increasingly likely as more and more fat is removed. Though some types of liposuction such as tumescent liposuction have reduced the chances of bleeding and scarring compared to traditional dry liposuction, there is still a chance of complications, particularly if large amounts of excess fat is removed. 

Like any surgery, liposuction involves follow-up care and there will be postoperative directions you need to follow. There may be changes to medications you would normally take, and you may need to wear compression garments over the targeted area to help reduce swelling. Your doctor may recommend you not engage in work or strenuous exercise for a period of time after your procedure. 

How Much Weight Can You Lose With Liposuction?

It is important to have realistic expectations if you are going under the knife for liposuction. Like other body contouring procedures, lipo cannot suck you down to size if you are carrying a large amount of excess body fat. This form of plastic surgery is limited in the amount of fat that can be removed, so it is ultimately an aesthetic procedure as opposed to a weight loss surgery that is intended to permanently alter your diet and body weight. 

Liposuction is typically only recommended for those patients who are in good health, have already adopted a healthy lifestyle, have lost the majority of their excess body weight, and have achieved a stable body size. If, after these goals have been met, you still find yourself struggling to lose small, stubborn deposits of fat, body sculpting or body contouring cosmetic procedures may be an option. 

Realistic expectations are important for anyone considering having fat removed. Liposuction cannot get rid of cellulite, for instance, even though that is a common complaint of many people looking into cosmetic surgery. What is more, not all areas of the body are good candidates for lipo, but there are many areas where this kind of procedure is commonly performed. The list of most common locations includes: 

  • abdomen
  • buttocks
  • chest
  • inner knees
  • upper arms
  • back
  • flanks (love handles)
  • neckline or below the chin
  • hips
  • the thighs, including “saddlebags” on the outer thighs and inner thighs

Who is a Good Candidate for Liposuction?

Just like other cosmetic surgery, not everyone is a good candidate for liposuction. Even if you have reasonable goals of removing only small fat deposits, there are other factors to consider. 

One of the first barriers to get over when considering liposuction is your level of skin elasticity. Since liposuction only removes fat cells, you will be left with excess skin that could appear baggy after your procedure. People with healthy skin will find that their body is able to adapt, but those who are older or who have lost skin elasticity through prolonged obesity or lifestyle factors like smoking may find that fat removal creates the side effect of excess skin. 

Since otherwise healthy but unwanted cells are being pulled out of your body during liposuction, there is a possibility that other tissues could be stressed or damaged during the procedure. This is particularly true of your blood vessels connected to the tissue being removed. For this reason, you may not be a good candidate for liposuction if you have vascular conditions, are on blood thinners, or have other conditions that could lead to dangerous levels of internal bleeding and blood loss. 

Does Lipo Permanently Remove Fat?

The fat cells removed from a targeted area of the body during liposuction are permanently removed. This does not mean that you are free from weight gain later in life, though. As long as you maintain a stable body weight after surgery, it is likely that the effects of your surgery will be permanent. Gaining significant weight, though, can leave you prone to regaining fat and possible redistribution of adipose tissue throughout the body that may endanger the results of your procedure.

Liposuction vs. Other Weight Loss Procedures

No surgery of this type is an instant fix. The swelling resulting from liposuction can last for several weeks, and it may be a few months for the treatment area to have the smoother, less bulky appearance you are looking for. In the best outcomes, the undesirable body fat located in the treatment area will never return. 

Liposuction has limitations, though, and the most important to consider is that this cosmetic procedure is very different from weight loss surgeries and procedures such as bariatric surgery or endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG). If you are looking to lose a significant amount of body fat, liposuction is not going to be an option. 

No matter what weight loss procedure you choose, finding the freedom from excess body weight, and keeping it off for good, takes serious commitment and a change in your lifestyle that one simple procedure cannot bring about. At True You, we work hard to ensure that everyone we work with understands the possibilities, and the limitations, of the procedures they are considering. If you want to know more about the options you have available to you when it comes to procedures for weight loss, request a consultation with True You today. 

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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