It may come as a surprise to learn that most people who have liposuction to remove unwanted fat don’t necessarily lose weight after the procedure. So why is liposuction the most frequently performed cosmetic surgery in the country? Simply put, liposuction may not take off pounds, but it can take off inches – by improving body shape.
Those who may benefit from the surgery are people who have fairly normal weight and stubborn areas of excess fat due to previous pregnancy or to genetics. Such fat accumulations may have affectionate names like “love handles” and “saddlebags,” but for many individuals they are unsightly problems that stand in the way of having a slim, trim body.
“Liposuction is the only way to lose fat for many people with inherited fat deposits that won’t go away with diet and exercise,” says Jack Bruner, MD, an associate clinical professor of plastic surgery at the University of California, Davis. “Some people can work hours in the gym and not lose those pockets of fat. But liposuction works.”
And liposuction is usually a long-term fix, as long as you don’t gain a lot of weight. Typically, those who gain only a few pounds find that fat does not return to the areas where they had liposuction. That’s because liposuction often removes the unwanted fat cells from the genetic fat deposits and subsequently resists weight gain.
Still, liposuction is not always the answer for the very overweight. “Some doctors think that liposuction is not a safe way to lose large amounts of weight,” Dr. Bruner says.
Removal of more than 11 pounds of fat and fluid during one operation – so-called “large-volume liposuction” – can increase the risks of the procedure. Deaths attributed to liposuction, although currently rare, have previously been associated with the removal of large amounts of fat and many hours of surgery. Development of blood clots in large veins has been another problem after large-volume liposuction.
Plastic surgeons are working to decrease the complications from liposuction. Task forces established by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) and other plastic surgery organizations have set safety guidelines on liposuction and outpatient surgery. The Liposuction Task Force, which Dr. Bruner heads, advises that if large-volume liposuction is performed, the surgeon should have a high level of skill and the patient should have access to overnight care in an accredited surgical facility. In the first 16 months since the task force made this and other safety recommendations, the number of serious complications from liposuctions performed by board-certified plastic surgeons substantially decreased.
Use accredited facilities
In another recent safety measure, the ASPS recommends that plastic surgeons perform outpatient surgeries, including liposuction, in a surgical facility that is accredited by a nationally or state-recognized accrediting organization. The society also encourages people interested in liposuction to seek out a plastic surgeon who is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and has operating privileges at an accredited hospital. Even if liposuction is done on an outpatient basis, this credential is important, because it means the physician has passed a thorough peer review of surgical competency and qualifications.