What to Know If You're Considering Liposuction

Many cosmetic or plastic surgery treatments and procedures exist to help you reach your goals of feeling better in your skin. Fat removal through liposuction is one popular procedure frequently done for body contouring purposes.

This article will review everything you need to know about liposuction-what exactly it is and why it's done, and potential complications from the procedure.

Woman having liposuction
Image Source / Getty Images

What Is Liposuction?

Liposuction is a cosmetic surgical procedure in which fat is suctioned from specific areas of the body. The goal is to reshape and redefine body contours that are not responding to diet and exercise. It shouldn't be considered weight loss surgery, although you may lose a few pounds. This procedure should be done by a well-trained plastic surgeon.

The most common areas of liposuction are the abdomen, buttocks, and thighs.

What Liposuction Cannot Do

Liposuction cannot remove excessive amounts of weight. Generally, the amount of fat removed during a typical liposuction surgery ranges from one to 10 pounds.

Liposuction will usually not reduce the appearance of cellulite.

Candidacy

Liposuction is of the most benefit to patients who are at or near their ideal weight, and aren't obese. They should have areas of fat that haven't improved despite weight loss attempts. It's also recommended that having a stable weight for at least six months before the procedure.

The best candidates for liposuction are non-smokers who are generally in good health and who have a positive outlook and realistic expectations about the procedure's outcome.

An ideal liposuction candidate will also have good skin elasticity and muscle tone. In fact, if a patient has already lost a significant amount of weight and has a lot of loose hanging skin, liposuction may only worsen those problems.

Contraindications

The following are a list of conditions that may hinder someone's candidacy for having liposuction:

  • Morbid obesity
  • Current smoker
  • Advanced age
  • Medical conditions that make surgery more risky
  • Use of blood thinning medications that can't be stopped

While larger amounts of fat can be removed, large volume liposuction is associated with increased safety risks, skin rippling, and contour irregularities.

Potential Risks and Complications

As with any surgical procedure, there are risks and possible complications. For liposuction, these include:

  • Excessive bleeding or hematoma
  • Necrosis (tissue death)
  • Fat clots (when fat goes into the bloodstream and lodges in blood vessels)
  • Anesthesia risks
  • Persistent swelling or pain
  • Asymmetry
  • Changes in skin sensation
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Cardiac and pulmonary complications
  • Damage to nerves, blood vessels, muscles, and organs
  • Unfavorable scarring, skin discoloration, contour irregularities, sagging of the skin, or other unsatisfactory aesthetic results
  • Need for additional surgery

Call your surgeon immediately if chest pain, shortness of breath, unusual heartbeats, or excessive bleeding occur after the surgery.

Costs

The total cost of liposuction varies widely depending on the size and number of areas being treated, as well as the specific techniques used.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of the surgeon/physician fee for liposuction was $3,637 in 2020, but costs can widely vary. The cost discrepancies have to do with the complexity of the procedure, your geographical area, and your surgeon’s skills and qualifications.

In addition to the surgeon’s fee, anesthesia, facility and lab fees, medications, and compression garments are often added to the cost of the procedure. 

Complementary Procedures

Since many women look to liposuction as a way to balance out the proportions of the body, it is often done in conjunction with a breast augmentation or breast lift.

Furthermore, for patients who also have loose skin in addition to excess fat in some areas, a tummy tuck or body lift procedure may be performed to enhance the patient’s overall result. For some, a breast reduction (via traditional techniques or via liposuction) may be chosen as well.

Prior to Your Procedure

Your surgeon will examine you and order pre-op lab tests to confirm your health status. This examination will include a full health history and most likely a detailed weight history.

Your surgeon may also require that you adjust, cease, or begin taking certain medications—avoiding aspirin, many anti-inflammatory drugs, and herbal supplements—for one to two weeks prior to surgery.

What to Expect

On the day of your procedure, have someone drive you to the facility. There, your surgeon will take pre-op photos and mark targeted areas on your body while you are standing.

  • You're prepped for surgery. IV fluid lines will often be put in place to help regulate fluid levels during surgery. In addition, you will be placed on monitors to keep track of heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels during the procedure.
  • Anesthesia is administered for your comfort during the procedure. Sometimes, a general anesthetic is used so that you will be asleep for the procedure. However, liposuction may also be performed using a combination of local anesthesia and intravenous sedation. Your surgeon will recommend the best choice for you.
  • Incisions are made. These very small incisions (about 1/8- to 1/2- inch each) are made by your surgeon in natural body creases whenever possible so that will be well hidden. Often, when treating larger areas, there are multiple incisions made for each treated area.
  • Fat is prepared for suctioning. There are a variety of techniques available to today’s plastic surgery patients. Often fluids are administered into the areas to be liposuctioned to help reduce blood loss and make it easier to remove the fat.
  • The fat is suctioned by small hollow metal tubes inserted through the incisions, called cannulas. The cannulas are moved in a controlled back and forth motion to loosen and suction the fat, drained through the tubes into waiting receptacles.
  • Incisions are closed with surgical sutures. Sometimes, small tubes will be placed at incision sites to help drain excess fluid.

Recovery and Downtime

Once the procedure is finished, you will be taken to a recovery area where you will likely be given a compression garment to wear to control swelling in the treated areas and help your skin conform to your new body shape.

You will likely go home after a few hours unless your surgeon determines that you need to stay in the facility overnight. When you do go home, arrange for someone to drive you there and stay with you for at least 24 hours.

Most patients can return to non-strenuous work, such as a desk job, after just two to three days. Strenuous work or exercise should not be resumed for at least two to three weeks, depending on the extent of your procedure and which areas have been treated.

As with all surgery, it is important to understand that these guidelines can vary widely based on a patient’s health, the techniques used, and other variables surrounding the surgery.

Regardless, it is important to take care not to subject the incision sites to excessive force, abrasion, or motion during the healing period. Report any severe pain to your healthcare provider.

Seeing Your Results

Post-op swelling and bruising can be significant with liposuction, so results can not be fully judged for at least one to three months after surgery. While most bruising will fade within two to four weeks, some residual swelling may take as long as six months to resolve fully.

Today’s liposuction normally involves very small incisions, which usually fade over time to be virtually undetectable. The intended result of liposuction surgery is a more refined contour and better-balanced body proportions.

Summary

Liposuction is a surgical body contouring procedure that suctions fat out of the body. This procedure is usually done when people have areas of fat on their body that didn't improve with diet and exercise.

Though it is generally a safe procedure, there can be possible complications. After the surgery, follow all of the instructions provided by the surgeon to help get the best results.

It can take up to three to six months following liposuction to see the full results.

A Word From Verywell

If you are looking into get liposuction, research plastic surgeons that are reputable and have a proven track record of successful and safe outcomes. Be sure to follow all instructions given to you- before and after the surgery- to make sure you get the results you desire.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does fat come back after liposuction?

    Liposuction permanently removes fat cells. The fat that was removed will not come back. However, fat can return to the area if you gain weight. New fat cells can grow in the areas where fat was removed previously.

  • What is the difference between a tummy tuck and liposuction?

    Although they are procedures that may be done together, liposuction and a tummy tuck are not the same thing. Liposuction is the removal of fat cells, while a tummy tuck can repair underlying muscle, and remove skin as well as fat from the abdomen.

  • Does liposuction tighten loose skin?

    No, liposuction does not tighten loose skin.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mendez BM, Coleman JE, Kenkel JM. Optimizing patient outcomes and safety with liposuction. Aesthet Surg J. 2019;39(1):66-82. doi:10.1093/asj/sjy151

  2. Khanna A, Filobbos G. Avoiding unfavourable outcomes in liposuction. Indian J Plast Surg. 2013;46(2):393-400. doi:10.4103/0970-0358.118618

  3. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. 2020 plastic surgery statistics report.

  4. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Can fat return after liposuction?

Additional Reading
  • Dhami LD. Liposuction. Indian J Plast Surg. 2008;41(Suppl):S27-S40.

  • Stephan PJ, Dauwe P, Kenkel J. Liposuction: a comprehensive review of techniques and safety. In: Peter RJ, Neligan PC, eds. Plastic Surgery, Volume 2: Aesthetic Surgery. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.

By Julie Scott, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Julie is an Adult Nurse Practitioner with oncology certification and a healthcare freelance writer with an interest in educating patients and the healthcare community.

Originally written by Natalie Kita