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 NHS Direct Online Health Encyclopaedia

Liposuction, also known as liposculpture, is the removal of unwanted body fat by suction, using a surgical vacuum. It is usually performed as cosmetic surgery with the objective of slimming and smoothing the contours of your body.

Liposuction is usually carried out on the buttocks, hips, thighs and abdomen. Other popular areas for liposuction are under the chin, neck, upper arms, breasts, knees, calves, or ankles.

When should it be done?
Liposuction is a cosmetic procedure and is carried out to improve a persons appearance rather than their health. It should only be undertaken after a lot of thought.

It is not an effective method for removing cellulite, commonly known as the orange-peel effect. Liposuction does not change the structure of the skin, so can't get rid of cellulite.

Liposuction is occasionally used to treat lymphedema (a condition where swelling in the arm can cause numbness, discomfort and infection) after treatment for breast cancer. Liposuction is not widely used in the UK and is only advised for the most severe forms of lymphoedema. Women who have this procedure are advised to wear compression bandaging and may need to wear it 24 hours a day.

Sometimes, in men, fatty swellings can develop under the nipples that look like breasts (gynaecomastia). Liposuction is sometimes used to remove these swellings.

Why is it necessary?
Liposuction is most often used to remove fat deposits in specific areas of your body. The aim of the procedure is not to reduce weight but to improve your figure. Liposuction is not a treatment for obesity as it can only be carried out on relatively small areas of the body and is not a long-term solution for weight-loss.

Like all surgical procedures there are risks associated with liposuction, and it is only recommended if you have tried making changes to your lifestyle, but it hasnt helped. Many people find that they can lose weight, tone up, and reduce fatty areas with a combination of healthy eating and exercise.

How is it performed?
You will have photographs of the area taken. Before the main procedure, the surgeon prepares the area by marking the skin with a sterile pen to indicate which parts have thicker levels of fat. Then one of several different preparation techniques is used.

The most common preparation technique is called tumescent liposuction. The surgeon performing the procedure injects a liquid solution into the area of the body being treated; this can be up to three times the amount of fat being removed. This solution is a mixture of local anaesthetic to numb the area, epinephrine (a drug that makes the blood vessels contract and reduces blood loss, bruising and post-operative swelling), and salt solution.
Another method of preparation is known as the super-wet technique. This is similar to tumescent liposuction, but uses less fluid. With this technique, the surgeon injects a solution amount equal to the amount of fat being removed. This technique may require a separate anaesthetic, either intravenously (through a drip), or a general anaesthetic by injection.
Ultrasound Assisted Liposuction (UAL) was established as a liposuction preparation technique in 1996. Ultrasonic vibrations are used either above or below the skin, to turn fat into liquid before it is sucked out. This technique may lengthen the whole procedure as it is often done in combination with tumescent liposuction to achieve a good result.
After a preparation treatment has been given, the surgeon makes a small cut in the skin of the area to be treated. If the area being treated is very large, several cuts may have to be made. The surgeon then inserts a suction tube called a microcannula, attached to a specialist vacuum machine, into the cut. The tube is used to first loosen and then suck the fat out of the area.

When all the required fat has been sucked out, the surgeon drains out any excess fluid and blood using small drainage tubes. This may have to be done several times in the first few days after the procedure.

Before deciding on surgery, a doctor or surgeon should inform you about a realistic result. While most people are generally pleased with the outcome of liposuction, it must be understood that the effects are often subtle rather than dramatic.

After the procedure, the difference to the shape and size of the area is most obvious once the swelling has gone down, but it may take up to six months for the area to settle completely. During this time, smaller changes and subtle differences to the area may be noticed.

If a general anaesthetic is used, you may have to stay in hospital overnight. If a local anaesthetic is used, it may be possible to have liposuction as a day procedure.

You may have to take antibiotics straight after the procedure, in order to reduce the risk of infection. You may also have to take mild painkillers (analgesics) to ease the pain and swelling that most people experience after liposuction. Any stitches will probably be removed 5-10 days later at an outpatient appointment.

There will be considerable bruising; the larger the area treated the greater the bruising. The discolouration due to the bruising will take up to a month to disappear but deep bruising and swelling may last for up to six months. There may also be some numbness in the area, which should go away in 6-8 weeks.

Pressure bandages or a corset are recommended immediately after surgery to help reduce swelling and bruising. They should be used for several weeks on the advice of your doctor.

© Queen's Printer and Controller of HMSO, 2005

Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the controller of HMSO and the Queens Printer for Scotland.



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