Planning your surgery
In your initial consultation, your surgeon will evaluate your health, determine where your fat deposits lie and assess the condition of your skin. Your surgeon will explain the body-contouring methods that may be most appropriate for you. For example, if you believe you want liposuction in the abdominal area, you may learn that an abdominoplasty or “tummy tuck” may more effectively meet your goals; or that a combination of traditional liposuction and UAL would be the best choice for you.
Be frank in discussing your expectations with your surgeon. He or she should be equally frank with you, describing the procedure in detail and explaining its risks and limitations.
Getting the answers you need
Individuals considering liposuction often feel a bit overwhelmed by the number of options and techniques being promoted today. However, your plastic surgeon can help. In deciding which is the right treatment approach for you, your doctor will consider effectiveness, safety, cost and appropriateness for your needs. This is called surgical judgment, a skill that is developed through surgical training and experience. Your doctor also uses this judgment to prevent complications; to handle unexpected occurrences during surgery; and to treat complications when they occur.
Preparing for your surgery
Your surgeon will give you specific instructions on how to prepare for surgery, including guidelines on eating and drinking, smoking, and taking or avoiding vitamins, iron tablets and certain medications. If you develop a cold or an infection of any kind, especially a skin infection, your surgery may have to be postponed.
Though it is rarely necessary, your doctor may recommend that you have blood drawn ahead of time in case it is needed during surgery.
Also, while you are making preparations, be sure to arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure and, if needed, to help you at home for a day or two.
Where your surgery will be performed
Liposuction may be performed in a surgeon’s office-based facility, in an outpatient surgery center, or in a hospital. Smaller-volume liposuction is usually done on an outpatient basis for reasons of cost and convenience. However, if a large volume of fat will be removed, or if the liposuction is being performed in conjunction with other procedures, a stay in a hospital or overnight nursing facility may be required.
Anesthesia for liposuction
Various types of anesthesia can be used for liposuction procedures. Together, you and your surgeon will select the type of anesthesia that provides the most safe and effective level of comfort for your surgery.
If only a small amount of fat and a limited number of body sites are involved, liposuction can be performed under local anesthesia, which numbs only the affected areas. However, if you prefer, the local is usually used along with intravenous sedation to keep you more relaxed during the procedure. Regional anesthesia can be a good choice for more extensive procedures. One type of regional anesthesia is the epidural block, the same type of anesthesia commonly used in childbirth.
However, some patients prefer general anesthesia, particularly if a large volume of fat is being removed. If this is the case, a nurse anesthetist or anesthesiologist will be called in to make sure you are completely asleep during the procedure.
The time required to perform liposuction may vary considerably, depending on the size of the area, the amount of fat being removed, the type of anesthesia and the technique used.
There are several liposuction techniques that can be used to improve the ease of the procedure and to enhance outcome.
Liposuction is a procedure in which localized deposits of fat are removed to recontour one or more areas of the body. Through a tiny incision, a narrow tube or cannula is inserted and used to vacuum the fat layer that lies deep beneath the skin. The cannula is pushed then pulled through the fat layer, breaking up the fat cells and suctioning them out. The suction action is provided by a vacuum pump or a large syringe, depending on the surgeon’s preference. If many sites are being treated, your surgeon will then move on to the next area, working to keep the incisions as inconspicuous as possible.
Fluid is lost along with the fat, and it’s crucial that this fluid be replaced during the procedure to prevent shock. For this reason, patients need to be carefully monitored and receive intravenous fluids during and immediately after surgery.
The basic technique of liposuction, as described above, is used in all patients undergoing this procedure. However, as the procedure has been developed and refined, several variations have been introduced.
Fluid Injection, a technique in which a medicated solution is injected into fatty areas before the fat is removed, is commonly used by plastic surgeons today. The fluid — a mixture of intravenous salt solution, lidocaine (a local anesthetic) and epinephrine (a drug that contracts blood vessels) — helps the fat be removed more easily, reduces blood loss and provides anesthesia during and after surgery. Fluid injection also helps to reduce the amount of bruising after surgery.
The amount of fluid that is injected varies depending on the preference of the surgeon.
Large volumes of fluid — sometimes as much as three times the amount of fat to be removed — are injected in the tumescent technique. Tumescent liposuction, typically performed on patients who need only a local anesthetic, usually takes significantly longer than traditional liposuction (sometimes as long as 4 to 5 hours). However, because the injected fluid contains an adequate amount of anesthetic, additional anesthesia may not be necessary. The name of this technique refers to the swollen and firm or “tumesced” state of the fatty tissues when they are filled with solution.
The super-wet technique is similar to the tumescent technique, except that lesser amounts of fluid are used. Usually the amount of fluid injected is equal to the amount of fat to be removed. This technique often requires IV sedation or general anesthesia and typically takes one to two hours of surgery time.
Ultrasound-Assisted Lipoplasty (UAL). This technique requires the use of a special cannula that produces ultrasonic energy. As it passes through the areas of fat, the energy explodes the walls of the fat cells, liquefying the fat. The fat is then removed with the traditional liposuction technique.
UAL has been shown to improve the ease and effectiveness of liposuction in fibrous areas of the body, such as the upper back or the enlarged male breast. It is also commonly used in secondary procedures, when enhanced precision is needed. In general, UAL takes longer to perform than traditional liposuction