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Want to Shape Your Body with Surgery?: Liposuction Explained 
by Carrie McClain June 26, 2005

Is liposuction really the key to accepting your body? Maybe, maybe not.

Summer has well and truly arrived. Baseball, fireworks, sweaty pits, and (drum roll please) skimpy clothes!! That kitten belly you’ve been ignoring all winter has become a bone of contention between you and your bikini. Inner thighs wedging those shorts up higher than the designer intended? Me too.

If you turn on the television at any hour of the day, especially if you have satellite or cable, you will be able to find some show about plastic surgery. Be it turning hillbillies with no teeth into hillbillies with fake teeth and modeling contracts or a tummy tuck on someone who’s lost a massive amount of weight (also through surgery, of course), plastic surgery is as big as it has ever been. Cosmetic surgery has become more acceptable, and in some cases even commonplace.

You may be, like me, someone who has never really considered plastic surgery as a figure fixer. This is not to say I’ve never bought into our culture’s obsession with appearance. I’ve spent hundreds on whitening toothpaste, cellulite cream, diet books, and exercise equipment. Plastic surgery is everywhere now! All I hear are commercials for it, TV shows about it, and people at my gym who have had it. I’m starting to wonder if maybe I need it. I’d like to lipo that belly from hanging over my jeans, wouldn’t you?

Liposuction Explained

Unless you’ve been living in a hole for the past 20 years, you should know that liposuction is a procedure that sucks out fat. Sounds disgusting. What exactly do they do?

In most liposuction procedures a small incision is made on the area where fat is to be removed. This can be the abdomen, hips, buttocks, thighs, knees, upper arms, chin, cheeks, neck, and even back. Pretty much anywhere. After the incision is made, a fluid is injected into the area. The solution usually contains salt, lidocaine (for local anesthesia) and epinephrine (to contract your blood vessels). This fluid helps your fat come loose; also preventing excess bleeding and bruising.

After the fluid is injected, a wand-like device (cannula) is inserted and swept back and forth over the area, collecting the fat into a tube. Thanksgiving dinner (swipe), chocolate cake (swipe), entire package of Oreos (swipe), swipe, swipe. Of course, the actual procedure is not quite so dramatic. The amount of fat actually removed varies, but is never significant enough to cause a big drop on the scales.

There are newer techniques available. Notably, tumescent, super-wet, and ultrasound-assisted (UAL). In both tumescent and super-wet, large volumes of the medicated solution are injected into the site. UAL uses a special cannula which produces ultrasonic energy to liquefy fat. All three of these newer techniques take 2-3 hours longer than traditional liposuction. They generally are used on very fibrous areas of the body such as the upper back or male breast. Your doctor will help you choose the right technique for you.

Qualifications of a Good Candidate

The best candidates for liposuction have the following:

Willingness to take the risks associated with the surgery.

Liposuction, like all surgeries, involves a certain degree of risk. If your doctor determines that you are a good candidate for liposuction, then your risks are lower. Risk in surgery involves many factors, including: health of patient, experience of surgeon, area of operation, size of area, and amount of fat to be removed. Make sure you talk with your doctor, and understand the risk that you are taking.

A realistic understanding of the results.

Be realistic about cosmetic surgery. Liposuction will not transform your body. You will look the same except with a slightly smaller tummy, saddlebags, or underarm flab. Your pants might come on easier, but you are going to be the same person. Examine your reasons for having this surgery. If you believe that liposuction will make you beautiful and give you happiness in all areas of your life, you should not have the surgery; you will be disappointed. If you want a little encouragement to be fit or if the only part of your body that bothers you much is that extra fat over your knee, you are a good candidate.

Are a normal, healthy weight.

If you are overweight or want to lose weight, liposuction is not the answer. You may lose weight, but you may not. Liposuction is only meant for body-contouring. Fixing those small trouble spots like the fat peeking over your bra or swimsuit straps. If you need to lose weight, get a nutritionist and a person trainer, not a surgeon.

Have firm, elastic skin.

Generally speaking, younger patients tend to have better results because their skin is still elastic (able to contract easily). In older patients, the skin around the area could appear baggy after surgery. Be sure to speak to your doctor about this.

Have the ability to pay for the surgery.

Finally, liposuction, like may cosmetic procedures, is expensive. Depending on the size of the area, location of the area, and the doctor, prices range from $3,000 to $10,000. Financing is available, but take into consideration that you might be paying for those saddlebags for 3 years. Liposuction is comparable to buying a car. Treat it with the same consideration when it comes to your finances.


Yes. Fatality is a risk with any surgery. There are many studies on the risk of death from liposuction. Some studies say 3 in 100,000 and others report 20-100 deaths per 100,000. The FDA reports the following as possible complications from liposuction:


Your doctor should take all precautions against infection. Many surgeons will prescribe antibiotics immediately following liposuction procedures. Risk of infection can also be reduced if you keep the area clean after surgery. Even with proper precautions, you may still develop an infection. You could have a mild infection, easily treated with antibiotics, or a rare but potentially deadly infection such as toxic shock syndrome.


When the fat is loosened, there is a possibility that a fat clot could travel into the blood stream to the brain, heart, lungs or other organs. Fat emboli are sometimes treatable, but can cause permanent disability or death. You will be watched for symptoms of fat emboli after surgery.

Visceral Perforations

Basically, this happens when the wand or cannula used to collect fat punctures an internal organ. You may require additional surgery to fix the wound, and it can of course cause death.


This condition is often treatable. Seroma is a collection of fluid in the areas where fat was removed.

Nerve Compression and Sensation Changes

These symptoms are common, and can last up to a year and in some cases be permanent. You may experience increased or decreased sensation or pain from compressed nerves in the area where liposuction was performed.


Swelling is expected after liposuction surgery. Some swelling can last up to 3 months after surgery, obscuring results.

Skin Necrosis

The skin above the liposuction area could die. This condition could increase your chances of infection.


Burns and cell damage is possible with Ultrasound-Assisted Liposuction.

Fluid Imbalance

Your doctor will watch you for symptoms of a fluid imbalance. Fat tissue contains a lot of fluid, and its removal can cause heart problems, lung fluid, or kidney problems.

Toxicity from Anesthesia

It is possible to have adverse reactions to the lidocaine used in the fluid. Symptoms are usually apparent during or directly following surgery, but it is possible to develop them at home. Be aware that signs include lightheadedness, restlessness, drowsiness, ringing in the ears, metallic taste, numb lips and tongue, shivering, muscle twitching, and convulsions.

Be aware of all of these risks and the signs and symptoms associated with them.

Other Options

Given the risks, you should be 100% certain that liposuction is what you want. Before you have surgery, I recommend you try some alternatives.

1. Use diet and exercise to decrease body fat. Yes, this is difficult; however, eating right and exercising hasn’t caused any infections or embolisms.

2. Dress to impress. Use clothing, makeup, and jewelry to downplay problem areas and emphasize parts you like. So you’ve got saddlebags; don’t wear tight pants, wear flattering skirts and get a new haircut.

3. Accept your body. Do you love your mother because of her trim waist? Did you pick your best friend because she has such slender thighs? If you did, you have problems. Other people accept your body; treat yourself as well as you treat others.

Surgery is risky, and usually avoided. Not too many people are walking around praying for the money to have an appendectomy. The reason is the risks, the pain, and the time it takes to recover. If you want liposuction, examine the reasons long and hard. Talk to several doctors, friends, family, other patients, and possibly a psychologist. Once you have done all of that, if you still want it, go ahead. Just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.


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