What Are the Risks of Liposuction?

Learn about the health risks of liposuction

Liposuction is generally quite safe. The chances of liposuction causing any serious problems begin when too much surgery is performed in a single day, this includes all types of surgery.

The body has a limit to how much trauma it can safely handle. If you want a lot of liposuction, or are planning any other plastic surgeries, such as a face lift or breast augmentation, you should schedule them at least four weeks apart.

Many people with excess fat undergo liposuction, despite the risks

The Main Risk is General Anesthesia

Some people, and even some surgeons, feel that since you are already under anesthesia, you might as well get all the work done at once. The more often you have to be put under general anesthesia, the more of a risk you take.

However, too much surgery in one day is far more dangerous than general anesthesia.

More and more doctors are using local anesthesia instead of general anesthesia, because it is much safer. The biggest problem with general anesthesia is that the patient is completely out. If a liposuction cannula accidentally punctures an organ or the intestine, no-one will know.

When caught in time, this type of injury can be treated immediately, without any long-term problems. But when the patient and doctor are unaware the injury has occurred, it could be fatal.

Rare, but serious risks of liposuction surgery include:

  • Blood clots – All types of surgery have some risk of blood clots. These can usually be treated before the clots reach the lungs or heart. If they do, they can be fatal.
  • Infections – Infections are rare, and usually only occur if the instruments are not properly sterilized.
  • Hematoma or Seroma – Blood (hematoma) or fluid (seroma) sometimes builds up under the skin near the incision site. These build ups usually drain on their own. If not, the surgeon may have to drain the area. Hematoma and seroma are more likely to happen in the case of extreme obesity, ultrasonic assisted liposuction (UAL) and the use of a large cannula.
  • Nerve damage – Nerve damage can happen with any type of surgery, however with liposuction it is more common with UAL.
  • Swelling – You can expect quite a bit of swelling after liposuction. Swelling is part of the healing process and will usually go away in about one to three months. By leaving the incisions open, as opposed to closed up with stitches, the wounds are able to drain naturally, which will help the swelling go down faster. When the surgeon decides to close the incisions, fluids are trapped under the skin, making the swelling last longer.
  • Necrosis – Necrosis is the death of tissue. Some tissue death is a common side effect of surgery or any break in the skin. However, some surgeons intentionally rupture the skin more than necessary because they believe the extra lacerations will encourage the skin to contract. This practice has been proven unnecessary, and only increases the risk of bacterial infection.
  • Pulmonary edema – Over use of intravenous fluids during and after liposuction can cause too much fluid to accumulate in the lungs. Pulmonary edema, if not treated immediately, can cause death. It has been proven that intravenous for liposuction surgery is not necessary, but rather excessive.
  • Allergic reaction to medication – It is important that the surgeon knows about any possible allergies you may have. You should also make him aware of any medications you are taking as these could interfere with the anesthetic.
  • Death – The most common deaths associated with liposuction surgery are caused by blood clots, infections, injury to internal organs, and adverse reactions to medications. A survey conducted in 2000 showed that the death rate of people who had liposuction surgery under general anesthesia was 1 in 5000. A more recent survey involving 65,000 cases, where all the patients had liposuction surgery with just local anesthesia, there were no deaths.
There are several risks associated with liposuction procedures. Image used courtesy of a Creative Commons license with the kind permission of Vishal Kapoor, MD and Flickr

There are several risks associated with liposuction procedures. Image used courtesy of a Creative Commons license with the kind permission of Vishal Kapoor, MD and Flickr

Be Informed of the Risks of Liposuction Before You Commit

Although the risks of liposuction surgery causing any serious problems are very rare, having the procedure using local anesthesia is much safer than general anesthesia.

With local anesthesia you are awake during the procedure, and therefore you can tell the doctor if you feel any pain or discomfort.

Of course, you won't feel anything in the area the surgeon is working on, but you will know right away if the cannula accidentally cuts into an organ or intestine. Knowing this can save your life.

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