Interest in body sculpting and cosmetic surgery is at an all-time high. One of the most common questions or concerns that patients have when coming in for a liposuction consult is “Is liposuction safe?” Everyone has seen the news stories highlighting bad outcomes, but how often does that really happen? The truth is that complications from liposuction are very rare.
Liposuction was the second most requested cosmetic surgical procedure in 20161 (the most frequently performed procedure is breast augmentation) and it had a 6% increase in volume over the prior year. Over 230,000 liposuctions were performed in 2016 by board certified plastic surgeons.
What are the most common risks associated with liposuction?
By far, the most common secondary effects caused by liposuction are bruising and swelling. These effects occur to some extent in almost every liposuction patient. This is something that you should expect as part of the healing process associated with liposuction. Many patients also have numbness in the treatment area. This is usually caused by the swelling. All of these effects typically resolve in the weeks to months following your liposuction procedure.
Less common risks associated with liposuction are fluid collections (seromas) and infections. Typically, these complications are not serious and can be treated on an outpatient basis by draining fluid collections or treating infections with antibiotics. Contour irregularities (ripples or “dents” in the treatment area) can also occur, but can generally be improved with further treatments. It is important to ask your cosmetic surgeon how often these types of complications occur in their practice.
What are the most serious risks associated with liposuction?
Fortunately, the serious complications are very rare. A recent study in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal2 which reviewed over 30,000 liposuction cases found a complication rate of less than 1%. Perforation (when the suction cannulas pass through the muscle wall into the space where your organs are), Fat embolism (when fat enters into a blood vessel) and Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT or a blood clot) are the most serious complications associated with liposuction and all of these can be life threatening.
What can I do to reduce my risks during liposuction?
One of the best ways to reduce your risks during liposuction is to have the procedure under local anesthesia. General anesthesia increases your risks for medication complications and blood clots. Also, patients who are under general anesthesia are at higher risk for perforation. When a patient is awake during liposuction, they will reflexively contract their abdominal wall if a cannula nears the muscles. This thickens the muscle wall, making it much more difficult to enter the organ cavity.
Always be sure to get up and moving as soon as possible after your liposuction procedure. Moving around will help to prevent blood clots and also help you mobilize fluid, helping to relieve swelling.
If you’re having a fat transfer, make sure your surgeon uses blunt cannulas to re-inject the fat. Sharp cannulas or needles can puncture blood vessels, increasing the risk of fat embolism.
Be honest with your surgeon. They are your partner in this process. Let them know if you smoke or drink daily and if you use any other drugs, including prescriptions. Interactions between substances can be serious. Be sure to let them know about any medical conditions that you have and any prior surgeries that you have had as well.
Follow your post op instructions. If your doctor wants you to take an antibiotic around the time of your procedure, follow their recommendations. Go to all of your post op appointments and discuss any concerns with your surgeon. We all want you to get a great result!