What is liposuction?
Liposuction (commonly called lipo) is a body contouring surgery that suctions out fat via a surgical vacuum with a thin tube called a cannula attached.
A skilled plastic surgeon can help remove unwanted fat deposits to contour your stomach, waist, back, chin, thighs, upper arms, and other body parts. Some patients choose to get 360-degree liposuction surgery, which shapes the lower torso by removing fat from the back, love handles, and stomach.
Lipoplasty, the medical term for liposuction, is one of the most popular plastic surgery procedures. A 2018 survey from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), indicates that there were over 9,500 liposuction procedures performed in Australia that year.
Compared to nonsurgical fat-reduction treatments, which require 2 or more sessions over several months to attain significant body sculpting results, liposuction can produce more dramatic and consistent results after just the initial procedure.
As part of a mummy makeover, lipo is often combined with other plastic surgeries like a tummy tuck (abdominoplasty). A liposuction procedure can also be used to restore volume or create fullness in other areas of your body by transferring fat that has been removed (e.g. butt, breasts, face).
Melon Tip: The purpose of liposuction is not to lose weight as such; it is to contour and sculpt the body by removing stubborn fat from specific areas.
Depending on the patient, the size of the targeted areas, and the amount of fat removed, liposuction can result in weight loss of up to 1.5 kilogrammes.
It's critical to set reasonable expectations for the kinds of outcomes you are expecting. Importantly, think in terms of centimetres rather than weight when discussing what changes you can expect after liposuction. Although fat can occupy a lot of space, it is not very heavy.
What are the pros and cons of liposuction surgery?
- Body fat in stubborn areas can be permanently removed with liposuction.
- With liposuction, a plastic surgeon can remove a greater volume of fat than would be possible with nonsurgical procedures. (In an outpatient setting, it is recommended to remove no more than 4,000 to 5,000cc of fat.)
- Due to the small incisions for the suction tube, visible liposuction scars are usually inconspicuous. Experienced liposuction surgeons can hide the centimetre-sized hole in areas such as the breast crease, belly button, armpits or the top of the buttock.
- In combination with fat transfer, liposuction can help your surgeon reshape your body. With women, it can create an hourglass figure, while in men, it can give a more chiselled, muscular build.
- There are many benefits to liposuction noted by patients, including fitting better into clothing, more confidence, and a younger appearance. Some patients also report starting a healthier lifestyle after the surgery and becoming more active since.
- Liposuction requires healing time. You can experience numbness, bruising, swelling, and possible nerve pain for up to two weeks post-op. Some 360 lipo patients regret not taking three weeks off to fully recover.
- A skin tightening procedure may be required after lipo to prevent the skin from sagging once the fat is removed.
- Especially if your surgeon is inexperienced, liposuction can cause complications and side effects, such as asymmetry, dimpling, or other contour irregularities. Additionally, some patients may also experience scarring, lumpiness, or disfigurement. The surgeon must be familiar and cautious with the muscle and bone anatomy in order to achieve a 'non-operated' appearance.
- Although liposuction permanently removes fat cells, if you gain weight, existing fat cells can still expand and new ones could also develop.
How much does liposuction cost?
Average Cost: $6,700
Range: $2,970 - $17,300
The cost of your liposuction procedure will depend on various factors, such as the experience of your surgeon and the location of the medical venue, the type of anesthesia you receive, and the number of areas being treated.
Most surgeons charge for liposuction based on the number of areas being treated, and generally, the cost per area will be lower if more areas are being treated at once. The first area is usually more expensive because it includes the costs of the operating room, equipment, and anesthesia. Once additional areas are being treated, these fixed costs have largely been covered, and you are only paying for additional time, which results in a lower price.
Liposuction is deemed an elective cosmetic surgery and is generally not covered by Medicare. Private health insurance may cover costs relating to the surgery theatre and hospital fees.
Is liposuction safe, what are the potential risks and side effects?
Liposuction rarely has complications when performed by an experienced, board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologic surgeon.
Although the risks with lipo are low, the following are some of the potential side effects to consider:
- Temporary blood clotting beneath the skin (Hematoma)
- Clear fluid build-up under the skin that may require a doctor to drain (Seroma)
- Vein inflammation caused by blood clotting (Thrombophlebitis)
- Changes in skin colour or feeling (Hyperpigmentation)
- If no skin ports are used during laser- and ultrasound-assisted lipo, thermal burns and scarring can occur above or beneath the skin.
A rare but more serious lipo concern is fat embolisms. This happens when pieces of fat separate, getting stuck in blood vessels and then travelling to the heart, lungs, or brain.
Don't hesitate to contact your doctor if you experience any problems while recovering from lipo.
What are the benefits of liposuction?
As an elective cosmetic surgery, liposuction has many benefits, most notably the ability to permanently and instantly remove unwanted fat from almost any part of the body-in larger quantities than nonsurgical methods.
Though it's not typically the preferred treatment, liposuction provides some medical benefits and can be used to treat several conditions.
- Lipomas: Traditional surgery is usually required to remove these benign (non-cancerous) fat tumours. However, a study published in 2017 showed that patients were highly satisfied with lipoma removal via liposuction, which also demonstrated no regrowth 12 months post-operation. Even so, some of the lipoma mass might remain, increasing the chances of recurrence.
- Gynecomastia: A combination of liposuction and surgical glandular tissue removal can be used to treat excess male breast tissue, possibly along with a skin tightening or surgical skin removal. Liposuction can be used stand-alone if the patient only has extra breast fat.
- Lymphedema: A build-up of lymphatic fluid can lead to swelling, and inflammation, usually in the arms and legs, ultimately increasing fat cell growth. This excess fat can be removed with liposuction.
- Lipodystrophy syndromes: People with this rare metabolic disorder that results in both weight loss and unwanted fat accumulation, often choose liposuction to remove excess fat from areas such as the chin and the "buffalo hump" on the back of the neck.
Who is a good candidate for liposuction?
In order to be a good candidate for liposuction, you should be a healthy non-smoker and meet the following criteria:
- Be 18 years or older
- Have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 30
- Have good skin elasticity
Good skin elasticity is important for achieving a good result from liposuction. Patients with poor elasticity, such as those who have had multiple pregnancies, may see their skin sag once the fat is removed.
You can test the elasticity of your skin by performing a "pinch test": if the skin springs back after being pinched with your thumb and index finger, it likely has sufficient elasticity for a good liposuction outcome.
Patients with an underlying medical condition, such as heart disease, blood flow problems, diabetes, or a weakened immune system, should not undergo lipo.
Melon Tip: If you are after a treatment for cellulite, liposuction may not be the best option. While excess fat can exacerbate the appearance of cellulite, it is not the main cause. Cellulite occurs when the fibrous tissue bands that connect the fascia (a type of connective tissue) to the skin become stiff and pull the skin down, creating dimples. The most effective treatments for cellulite involves breaking or weakening these bands in order to smooth out the skin.
What happens during liposuction surgery?
Liposuction is a surgical procedure that is typically performed on an outpatient basis and takes between 30 minutes and four hours, depending on the size and number of treatment areas (1 small area vs 360 Lipo).
Traditional liposuction is still offered by the majority of plastic surgeons, but newer lipo technologies are making it possible to remove fat more quickly and with less damage to the surrounding tissue.
During the first consultation, your surgeon can help you determine the best type of liposuction for you. Traditional tumescent liposuction, which involves injecting a solution into the treatment area and then suctioning the fat out, is the foundation for all the newer, advanced liposuction techniques.
These are the steps of a lipo procedure:
- During the beginning of the procedure, you will receive either local anesthesia, IV sedation, or general anesthesia depending on the extent of the surgery.
- For tumescent liposuction, the standard lipo method, your surgeon will make one or more small incisions in the targeted area and inject a combination of saline, local anesthesia, and epinephrine into the tissue. Large volumes of the solution cause the fat to become inflated, firm, and easier to remove, it also helps to constrict blood vessels, reducing bruising, blood loss, and recovery time.
- The surgeon will then insert a suction tube into the same incision and use it to break up and remove the fat.
Additionally, these cutting-edge technologies may also be used in your lipo surgery:
- Power-assisted liposuction (PAL) utilises a vibrating cannula to break down chunks of fat.
- Laser-assisted liposuction (LAL) surgery operates low-energy laser waves to melt fat.
- Tickle Lipo or Nutational Infrasonic Liposculpture (NIL), uses vibration to distract patients from the pain, while a smaller cannula loosens and suctions out the fat.
- Radiofrequency-assisted lipolysis (RFAL) methods, uses radiofrequency energy to liquefy fat and subtly tighten loose skin, which is then suctioned out using liposuction.
- Ultrasound-assisted liposuction (UAL) employs sound waves to break down globs of fat cells. VASER liposuction, a kind of UAL, uses a textured cannula and probe to distribute ultrasonic energy evenly.
Many surgeons prefer VASER liposuction because it uses ultrasound energy to break down the fat and does not excessively heat the surrounding tissue. This makes it easier to remove the fat and reduces the risk of pain, swelling, downtime, and loose skin.
VASER is especially effective on men, where fat is often more fibrous. It allows the surgeon to sculpt the body and reveal the underlying muscle and bone structure.
Moreover, fat broken up by VASER can be used for fat transfers to other areas of the body, such as the breasts or butt to add volume. An option not available with laser liposuction which liquefies the fat.
Melon Tip: Some doctors also offer a treatment dubbed Strawberry laser lipo, which uses low-energy light under the skin to shrink fat cells by releasing water and fatty acids. This is not real liposuction, as it does not involve fat removal.
When will you see liposuction results?
After getting liposuction, you should notice an improved body shape almost instantly, but the full results will be disguised by swelling. The swelling should significantly decrease within the first 6 weeks and continue to subside over the next 6 months.
Depending on your desired results, you might want another liposuction surgery. Let the swelling subside for at least 6 months, before discussing more lipo with your surgeon.
Revision liposuction surgery may also be necessary if there are irregularities in the results of the original procedure, such as asymmetry, dimpling, or bumps.
It is worth noting that revision surgery can be more complex and may involve a complete redo of the operation, requiring scar release and fat grafting in addition to spot liposuction. Inexperience on the part of the initial surgeon can be a factor in the need for revision liposuction, but it can also be due to the way an individual heals.
Overall, it is important to keep in mind that you will continue to heal and see better results for up to a year after having liposuction.
Are liposuction results permanent?
Liposuction permanently removes fat cells, but to preserve your results, it is important to maintain a stable weight.
If you gain weight, the remaining fat cells will become larger, reversing the effects of the procedure or creating contour irregularities. In some instances, significant weight gain may also lead to the development of new fat cells in the targeted areas, although the area will still appear better than before the surgery.
To maintain the benefits of liposuction, it is important to adopt a healthy diet and regular exercise routine, starting as soon as you feel well enough to do so. It is normal to experience soreness post-surgery and to be limited from full workouts for a period of time. This sometimes causes acute weight gain immediately post-operation.
It is important to get back into the habit of exercising as soon as you are able and to be more active and mindful of your eating habits after the procedure than you were before.
Does liposuction surgery hurt?
Liposuction is usually performed under general anesthesia, which means that you will not feel any pain during the operation. However, after the surgery, you can expect to experience some pain, discomfort, swelling and bruising that will subside over a few weeks.
It is important to follow your provider's instructions for managing pain and discomfort, which may include taking prescribed or over-the-counter pain medication. You should also plan to take some time off work to allow your body to heal and recover from the surgery.
How long does liposuction recovery take?
The recovery time for lipo varies based on the scope of the operation. For minor surgery like chin liposuction, you may only require a few days to recover, while a full 360 liposuction procedure may demand two weeks or more of downtime.
Here is what you can expect during recovery:
- After liposuction, you may experience bruising, swelling, inflammation, numbness, and nerve pain. The targeted area can also feel firm due to swelling. These side effects should improve within 6 weeks.
- Your surgeon will likely prescribe pain medication, though over-the-counter medicines may suffice.
- While It is uncommon, lumpy sections in the treated area may be visible after the swelling goes down. This should improve over a few weeks and wearing compression gear can help prevent the issue.
- Within 3 to 4 weeks, most people are able to resume their regular activities, including exercise.
Post-lipo compression gear and lymphatic massages
Compression gear is often considered an essential part of the recovery process following liposuction surgery. These garments are designed to apply pressure to the treated area in order to minimize swelling, and bruising and help the skin evenly adhere to the underlying tissue as it heals.
Many surgeons recommend wearing these garments for at least 2 weeks, around the clock (excluding showering), with a gradual decrease in wear time over the following few weeks. In addition to aiding in the healing process, compression gear can also provide comfort and support to the treated area.
Some doctors also recommend lymphatic massages starting from the first-day post-surgery and continuing for 4 weeks. This type of massage assists in fluid drainage and reduces swelling.
It is important to note that self-massage is not recommended following lipo surgery, as it is possible to inadvertently counteract the effects of the surgery. Instead, seek out a massage therapist who is experienced in post-surgical massage techniques. This can help to speed up the healing process and prevent any irregularities in the treated area.
Tummy tuck vs. liposuction: What's the difference?
Liposuction removes unwanted fat cells via suction technology, while tummy tuck surgery (abdominoplasty) removes excess skin, fat and tightens the muscles in the abdominal area.
These procedures can be combined for optimal results, particularly if you do not have sufficiently good skin elasticity for lipo alone.
Liposuction vs. CoolSculpting: Which is better?
CoolSculpting removes small areas of fat by freezing the fat cells. After undergoing a single treatment, patients typically see a steady reduction of about 20% of the fat cells in the targeted area. Results usually become visible within a month and continue to improve for up to 20 weeks. Some people choose to have 2 to 3 treatments in order to achieve their desired results.
Advantages of liposuction over nonsurgical alternatives:
- Liposuction is more effective for eliminating larger amounts of fat, while CoolSculpting is better suited for smaller areas.
- While the results of liposuction may be noticeable immediately and continue to improve as swelling subsides, CoolSculpting results take several months to become apparent.
CoolSculpting has a different set of potential risks and side effects compared to liposuction and is definitely not considered risk-free. In rare circumstances, some people experience paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH) after CoolSculpting, which causes fat to harden and may require liposuction to correct.
It is also worth noting that individuals who have undergone nonsurgical fat reduction procedures like CoolSculpting may be more difficult to treat with lipo due to the presence of internal scarring.
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