LIPOSUCTION: Myths and Reality

April 28, 2021

BY Dr. Nikhil S. Shetty

Liposuction is a surgical procedure that uses a suction technique to remove fat from specific areas of the body, such as the abdomen, hips, thighs, buttocks, breasts, arms or neck. Liposuction also shapes (contours) these areas. Other names for liposuction include lipoplasty and body contouring.

Liposuction isn’t typically considered an overall weight-loss method or a weight-loss alternative. If you’re overweight, dieting and exercise, or bariatric procedures such as gastric bypass surgery, can help you lose more weight than liposuction. Liposuction, in fact, is used to remove fat from areas of the body that haven’t responded to diet.

Risks involved

As with any major surgery, liposuction too has risks, such as bleeding, or reaction to anaesthesia. The possible complications specific to liposuction include:

Contour irregularities. Your skin may appear bumpy, wavy or withered due to uneven removal of fat, poor skin elasticity and unusual healing.

Fluid accumulation. Temporary pockets of fluid (seromas) can form under the skin. This fluid may need to be drained out with a needle.

Numbness. You may feel a temporary or permanent numbness in the affected area. Temporary nerve irritation is also a probability.

Infection. Skin infections are rare, but possible.

Internal puncture. A cannula that penetrates too deeply (in rare cases) may puncture an internal organ.

Fat embolism. Pieces of loosened fat may break away and become trapped in a blood vessel.

Kidney and heart problems.

Lidocaine toxicity.

The risk of complications increases if the plastic surgeon is working on larger surfaces of your body or doing multiple procedures during the same operation.

How you prepare

Before the procedure, discuss with your plastic surgeon what to expect from the surgery. Your plastic surgeon will recommend that you stop taking certain medications such as blood thinners or NSAIDs at least three weeks prior to the surgery. You may also need to get certain lab tests done before your procedure.

Other precautions

If your procedure requires the removal of only a small amount of fat, the surgery may be carried out as a day care procedure. If a large amount of fat is to be removed — or if you plan to have other procedures done at the same time — the surgery may be done in a hospital followed by an overnight stay.

Before your liposuction procedure, the plastic surgeon may mark circles and lines on the areas of your body that have to be treated. Photographs may also be taken in order to compare the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images. The procedure may last up to several hours, depending on the extent of fat removal.

After the procedure

Expect some pain, swelling and bruising after the procedure. Your plastic surgeon may prescribe medication to help control the pain, and antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection. After the procedure, the plastic surgeon may leave your incisions open and place temporary drains to promote fluid drainage. You usually need to wear tight garments, which help reduce swelling, for a few weeks. You may need to wait a few days before returning to work and a few weeks before resuming your normal activities — including exercise. During this period, expect some contour irregularities as the remaining fat settles into position.

Results

After liposuction, swelling typically subsides within a few weeks. By this time, the treated area should look less bulky. Within several months, expect the treated area to have a leaner appearance. It’s natural for the skin to lose some firmness with aging, but the results of liposuction are generally long lasting as long as you maintain your weight. If you gain weight after liposuction, your fat distribution pattern may change. For example, you may accumulate fat around your abdomen regardless of what areas had originally been treated.

Dr. Nikhil S. Shetty, MBBS, MS (General Surgery), Mch (Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery), is a visiting Consultant – Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, at Indiana Hospital & Heart Institute, Mangaluru

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