Liposuction

Liposuction is a type of cosmetic surgery used to remove unwanted body fat. The operation is also known as liposculpture or suction-assisted lipectomy.

Liposuction is carried out on areas of the body where deposits of fat tend to collect, such as the buttocks, hips, thighs and abdomen. Other popular areas for liposuction are under the chin, neck, upper arms, breasts, knees, calves or ankles.

Liposuction permanently removes fat cells and can alter body shape. However, the remaining fat cells can grow, so weight loss is not necessarily permanent, especially if you eat an unhealthy diet and don’t exercise after the operation.

Liposuction is not a treatment for obesity, and it will not remove cellulite or stretch marks. There is a limit to the amount of fat that can safely be removed, and the surgery carries a number of risks, such as infection, scarring and numbness. Read more about the risks of liposuction.

Before having liposuction you should discuss other options with your GP and be aware that liposuction may not be able to give you the results you want. Liposuction is only recommended if you have tried changing your lifestyle but this has not helped.

No kind of cosmetic surgery, including liposuction, should be undertaken lightly. You may feel it will improve your appearance, but it can be expensive and time-consuming, and there are some risks. The decision to have liposuction should only be taken after careful thought and after speaking to your GP. Read more about the things you should consider before having liposuction.

Liposuction may also be used to treat some medical conditions, such as:

  • lipomas - non-cancerous tumours of fat
  • gynaecomastia - fatty breast tissue development in men
  • lipodystrophy syndrome - where fat is gained in one area of the body and lost from another as a side effect of some medicines that treat HIV

Read more about why liposuction is used.

How is liposuction performed?

Before having a liposuction operation, your surgeon will discuss the procedure with you to decide which technique they will use to prepare the area where fat is to be removed. The options available to them are:

  • tumescent (wet) liposuction – the most common technique used, where a liquid solution is injected into the area being treated to help numb the area and reduce blood loss
  • super-wet liposuction – similar to tumescent liposuction, but less fluid is used
  • dry liposuction – this is a rarely used technique where fat is removed without any fluid being injected first
  • ultrasound-assisted liposuction (UAL) – ultrasonic vibrations are used either above or below the skin to turn fat into liquid before it is sucked out
  • laser-assisted liposuction – a weak laser pulse is used to break down the fat cells
  • water-jet-assisted liposuction (body-jet) – a fine high-pressure water jet is used to separate fat cells, which are then more easily removed by suction

Once the skin is prepared, a small cut is made in the area to be treated. A suction tube attached to a specialised ‘vacuum machine’ is then inserted. Several cuts may be made if there is a large area being treated. Read more information on how liposuction is performed.

Liposuction is usually carried out under general anaesthetic. If it is only a small area being treated then local anaesthetic may be used. If it is only your lower body being treated you may be able to have an epidural anaesthetic instead.

After the operation, the treated area will be bandaged or stitched, and you may need to wear some elastic compression clothing to reduce swelling. If general anaesthetic is used you may be asked to stay overnight in hospital.

It usually takes about two weeks to make a full recovery, but it can take up to six months to see noticeable results, as the treated area may take time to settle down.

Read more about recovering from liposuction.

Liposuction on the NHS

Because liposuction is usually used to improve your appearance rather than your health, it is not normally available on the NHS. It may be available if used as part of reconstructive surgery or to treat certain conditions such aslipoedema.

The NHS will not pay for surgery for cosmetic reasons alone. To receive cosmetic surgery from the NHS, you will normally need a referral from your GP. You will have to have a consultation with a plastic surgeon and an assessment by a psychiatrist or psychologist. They will decide whether there is enough social, psychological or physical benefit to justify surgery.

This decision is usually made at a meeting by a panel run by your Primary Care Trust (PCT), which will assess your case on an individual basis. Read more about theavailability of cosmetic surgery.

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