How Does Liposuction Work? An Introductory Guide

By Matthew Cenzon. May 7th 2016

Liposuction surgery is a medical procedure where excess fat is removed from isolated areas on the body through a suction method. Areas where liposuction is typically used include the buttocks, thighs, hips and abdomen. However, liposuction can also be used in other areas of the body where fat is deposited, such as the:

  • Cheeks
  • Neck
  • Upper arms
  • Calves
  • Ankles
  • Breasts
  • Knees

The procedure is mainly used for cosmetic purposes and is also known as body contouring, since the patient's body is literally being reshaped to improve overall appearance.


Before liposuction surgery is performed, a patient will receive consultation where the surgeon can answer any questions, go over the procedure and what to expect, and administer a physical exam and review the patient's medical history. It is important to carefully think about whether the procedure is the best course of action. Anyone undergoing liposuction surgery should be fully informed about the procedure, possible risks, and proper care and treatment post-operation.

How Liposuction Works

Before treatment begins, the surgeon typically outlines or marks the areas on the body that will be treated. After local or general anesthesia is administered, a small incision is made on the skin where a suction tube will be inserted to remove fat. There are several techniques that are used for liposuction to help with fat removal:

  • Tumescent liposuction: The most common technique used for a liposuction procedure is tumescent liposuction. This method uses a special solution made of local anesthetic (lidocaine), a drug to make blood vessels constrict (epinephrine), and an intravenous salt mixture. The special solution is injected to numb the specific area, reduce bleeding and bruising and to allow the fat to be suctioned easily.
  • Powered liposuction: This technique uses a cannula, or thin tube, that rapidly vibrates to loosen the fat that is being removed. A surgeon might use powered liposuction for certain areas that require more care and precision for fat removal, and to reduce the amount of pain and swelling.
  • Ultrasound-assisted liposuction: This technique uses ultrasonic vibrations to liquefy fat cells that are to be suctioned out. Ultrasound-assisted liposuction is typically used in conjunction with tumescent liposuction.

Liposuction surgery can take up to several hours, with a duration that is dependent upon the amount of fat that is being suctioned out. Once the fat is removed, the surgeon may leave the incisions on the patient's body open to help fluid to drain, and might even insert drainage tubes to remove fluid and blood. Fluid can be restored to the body intravenously in situations where the patient has lost an excessive amount of fluid and blood during the procedure. A patient may be kept in the hospital overnight so that his or her recovery can be monitored.


A patient can expect to experience some pain, swelling and bruising around the treated areas after liposuction surgery. Bandages and compression materials may be administered to help keep pressure around the area to reduce bleeding and to allow the treated areas to retain their new shape. The surgeon will schedule follow-up visits to keep track of a patient's recovery. Pain medication and antibiotics may be prescribed to reduce pain and the risk of infection. While most patients can expect to return home the same day as the procedure, several days of rest and recovery are recommended before returning to work or full physical activity.

What Are the Risks?

Before undergoing liposuction surgery, the surgeon will go over a list of pre-existing conditions that may lead to complications. These pre-existing conditions can include:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart conditions
  • Hypertension
  • Breathing problems
  • Allergic to certain medications
  • Frequent smoking, drinking and drug use

Possible complications associated with liposuction include:

  • Infection: like any other surgical procedure, there is the risk of a life-threatening infection, though such cases are rare.
  • Numbness: this may occur due to nerve damage.
  • Pooling of fluid: there is the possibility that fluids may accumulate under the skin and need to be drained with a needle.
  • Internal trauma: on extremely rare occasions, the liposuction tubing may puncture an internal organ.
  • Fat embolism: fat may enter the bloodstream and gather in the lungs or travel towards the brain.
  • Swelling: in some cases, swelling may persist for a lengthy period of time after surgery.

Understanding Liposuction

Dieting and exercise are still the best means for losing weight, and liposuction surgery should not be looked at as a quick and easy substitute for living a healthier lifestyle. One must be in good health to be a candidate for liposuction to reduce the risks of complications. The patient's new physical appearance after liposuction surgery can remain permanent, as long as the patient maintains his or her weight. There is also a chance that liposuction can alter the way a patient's body stores fat, depending on what areas of the body that were treated.


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