What is liposuction?

Liposuction is a minimally invasive plastic surgery procedure to remove fat from specific areas of the body using a suction technique. Liposuction helps improve your body contour. This procedure is sometimes called lipoplasty, body contouring or lipo. 

Why is liposuction done?

Liposuction can be useful to treat persistent fat deposits that remain after you’ve tried a healthy diet and exercise routine. It’s extremely effective for fat removal in just about any targeted body area, including: 

  • Abdomen and waist 
  • Arms
  • Back
  • Chest
  • Face, chin and neck
  • Hips and buttocks
  • Knees
  • Thighs, calves and ankles 

Liposuction won’t help you lose large amounts of weight, and it’s not a treatment for cellulite or obesity. Instead, doctors recommend regular exercise and healthy weight management.

For larger amounts of excess fat and drooping skin that’s lost elasticity, Ohio State offers other procedures that can help. These include facelift, breast reduction with a breast lift, and tummy tuck. Procedures like these may be more appropriate than liposuction if you want to lift and tighten skin or remove larger amounts of fat.

Nonsurgical facial and skin rejuvenation can also help to enhance your new look by tightening, resurfacing and brightening your skin. 

Preparing for liposuction

At Ohio State, surgeons perform liposuction in an accredited, office-based surgical facility, licensed surgical center or hospital surgery suite. Be sure to make advance plans for someone to drive you to and from surgery and stay with you overnight after your procedure, if needed.

Your surgeon will inform you about how to prepare for liposuction. Getting ready for a lipoplasty body contouring procedure may include these and other steps as discussed with your doctor:

  • Medical evaluation, including health history
  • Lab testing
  • Adjustments in medications or supplements
  • Dietary guidelines
  • Instructions to stop smoking

What to expect if you have liposuction

Procedure steps vary depending on the extent of your operation and what areas of the body your plastic surgeon treats. If you’re having multiple areas treated, liposuction can take several hours. A liposuction procedure typically includes the following steps:

You may receive oral medication and intravenous (IV) sedation or general anesthesia. If you receive local anesthesia, the doctor will numb the area to be treated and surrounding areas. You won’t be in a deep sleep, but you’ll feel relaxed and sleepy during the procedure. If you have general anesthesia, you’ll be in a deep, sleep-like state throughout the procedure. Your doctor will recommend the best anesthesia option for you and let you know what to expect.

Your plastic surgeon will make small incisions in inconspicuous locations. You’ll get a diluted local anesthesia, which will help to reduce bleeding and trauma. The doctor will insert a thin hollow tube (cannula) through the incisions. They’ll use the cannula to loosen excess fat and suction it out of your body with a surgical vacuum or syringe, which is attached to the cannula.

If you have a more extensive surgical procedure, you may have an overnight hospital stay.

Liposuction tools and techniques

Surgeons may use different tools or techniques to liquify fat cells before suctioning them out of the body with a cannula. Before certain types of treatment, the surgeon will inject a medication and saltwater solution. This will help limit fluid loss and make it easier to remove targeted areas of fat. Liposuction options include:

Ultrasound-assisted liposuction (UAL) — Types of UAL and treatment options include:

  • Internal UAL – The surgeon attaches an ultrasonic device to the cannula and inserts it to loosen and dissolve fat before suctioning and removing it.
  • External UAL – The doctor positions the cannula outside your body and sends energy waves through the skin to the targeted area to dissolve fat before its removal.

Laser-assisted liposuction (LAL) — The surgeon inserts a laser fiber through a small incision to break down fat deposits for suction removal.

Power-assisted liposuction (PAL) — The doctor uses a cannula that vibrates in a back-and-forth motion. This allows the doctor to target precise areas and remove more fibrous or resistant fat deposits. This approach may be used if you have larger amounts of fat to remove or if you've had a previous liposuction procedure.

Recovery after liposuction

Depending on your condition and treatment, recovery after liposuction can range from a few days to a few weeks. After your procedure, you may experience some swelling, bruising and discomfort. The doctor can prescribe medication to ease symptoms if needed. Your condition will be monitored and your surgeon will tell you when you can go home. Most patients can go home the same day. More complex procedures may require an overnight hospital stay.

You will have elastic bandages or a tight compression garment to manage swelling and compress treated areas as they settle into their new position. You’ll need to wear these for a few weeks as you heal.

Your doctor may leave small tubes in your incisions to help drain any excess fluids that accumulate. The doctor will remove any tubes or stitches during your post-surgical follow-up appointment.   

The surgeon will give you individualized care instructions to follow once you’re home. You’ll learn what to expect, when to report unusual symptoms and when to schedule follow-up appointments. You should be ready to return to work or other routines within a few days. It typically takes a few weeks before you can return to other activities and exercise. Follow your surgeon’s instructions carefully to prevent complications and promote successful healing.

Liposuction results

You’ll notice lean body contour in treated areas once the swelling and any fluid retention subside — usually within a few weeks. It’s normal to see surface irregularities as tissues resettle. It may take several months before your new look is permanent.

You can expect long-lasting results after liposuction if you maintain a steady weight and positive lifestyle habits. Weight gain can change your body’s typical fat distribution patterns. Additional changes in your body are normal over the years with aging and other effects of gravity and time. Regular exercise and healthy lifestyle habits can protect your skin and body, and help your results last longer.

Risks of liposuction

Your surgeon will discuss the potential risks and benefits of liposuction with you. Risks of any surgery include infection, bleeding and risks associated with general anesthesia. Other potential liposuction complications can include:

  • Bruising
  • Damage to deeper nerves, blood vessels and organs
  • Fat embolism (clot) — a medical emergency with heart and lung risk
  • Excess fluid accumulation under skin
  • Heat injury risks of ultrasound-assisted lipoplasty
  • Irregular pigmentation
  • Lidocaine toxicity, if this anesthetic is used
  • Numbness and possible nerve irritation
  • Persistent swelling
  • Poor wound healing
  • Rippled or loosened skin and worsening of cellulite
  • Uneven areas and irregular curves

Risks can increase if the doctor is treating multiple or larger areas of the body. Your surgeon will be sure you understand potential risks and benefits based on your unique condition and procedure.

It’s important to ask questions at any time before and after your procedure. Closely following your doctor’s care instructions helps reduce your risk of complications. At Ohio State, our board certified plastic surgeons routinely take every measure to minimize risks and enhance safety.

Why choose Ohio State for liposuction?

The plastic surgeons at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, use sophisticated technologies to perform lipoplasty body contouring procedures. Ohio State’s board certified plastic surgeons have advanced skills and expertise in liposuction and related types of cosmetic surgery.

Ohio State is one of the nation’s leading teaching and research academic medical centers. Our physician leaders train tomorrow’s plastic surgery leaders. Ohio State plastic surgeons are part of research teams who continually develop exciting advances in cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery.

At Ohio State, you’ll have access to safe, effective care from a plastic surgery team with proven expertise across multiple specialties; comprehensive services from plastic surgery experts who can help you achieve multiple personal cosmetic surgery goals; and sophisticated liposuction techniques that minimize discomfort and contribute to smooth, efficient healing with limited downtime 

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