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How Does Liposuction Work?

woman with old-fashioned vacuum cleaner

by Kenneth M. Rose, M.D.

Liposuction removes unwanted fat from people who are at a healthy weight. It's a refining technique that can be used almost anywhere on the body. Most frequently, it's used to smooth out problem areas, such as the saddlebags on the outer thighs, love handles on the flanks or spare tire around the belly.

How the Tumescent Technique Works: Vacuuming Out the Fat

One of the most common forms of liposuction is the tumescent technique. This usually involves mild prednisone with local anesthesia in the office operating room.

  1. Before the operation, the patient is marked with a special pen to indicate the areas of fat that must be removed.
  2. Once the anesthesia has set in, the surgeon injects fluid into the fat that helps numb the area and reduce bleeding.
  3. The surgeon then makes small incisions—1 inch or less—in body creases (to hide the scars).
  4. Finally, the doctor inserts a long, thin tube to suction out the fat, much like a vacuum cleaner. (Moving the tube back and forth breaks apart the fat, which goes into a plastic bottle.)

At the conclusion of the procedure, the surgeon places absorbable sutures into the wounds and applies a compression garment. The recovery time is usually rapid, comparatively speaking. Overall, most people may return to their daily routines in a few days, though it can take a few weeks to get completely back to normal.

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Liposuction FAQs

Q. What happens if I gain weight after liposuction? Where will the fat go?
A. Overall, the new fat will be more apparent in other areas of the body. The operated area will also get bigger, just less so. This is because in most people, fat cells do not multiply. They only get bigger when you gain weight or smaller when you lose it. After liposuction, the operated area has fewer fat cells than before, so there’s less growth.

Q. I need to lose weight quickly. Will liposuction help?
A. Liposuction is a refining technique that is best used to remove localized pockets of fat. Therefore, it’s not a substitute for diet and exercise. There’s also a limit to the amount of fat a surgeon can remove during one operation. As such, liposuction is not an appropriate procedure for overweight people.

Q. I had a baby, and now my belly is poochy. Will liposuction work for this?
A. This condition is usually due to the stretching of abdominal skin and muscles, not to weight gain. Liposuction is usually not helpful in treating this problem. A tummy tuck, which would eliminate the excess skin and tighten the stomach wall, would be a better treatment choice.

In my opinion, liposuction is a great way to regain the shape you once had. It's effective, usually has a short recovery time and is relatively safe for most healthy people, though all surgeries carry risks. Be sure to find someone well-trained in the procedure, and ask questions as you would of any surgeon.

is a board-certified plastic surgeon in private practice in Manhattan.

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Last updated and/or approved: March 2012.
Original article appeared in May/June 2008 former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.

Comments (3)add comment
Liposuction Experience
written by Maheen Fatima , April 23, 2019

I was a victim of this procedure, and i think this is the best method to remove extra fat from the any part of the body, no need to go gym and also no need to follow a diet plan for a long period of time.
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fat suction using cosmetic surgery?
written by vimeo , June 03, 2014

I think people should know that the fat that will be removed using liposuction only subcutaneous fat a.k.a the fat under our skin. The dangerous one is the visceral fat where it can accumulate around the organs and cause all kinds of problems. insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes.
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written by liz , February 05, 2014

Thank you for being honest about the advantages and disadvantage of liposuction. T see that it is not suitable for overweight person. And thank you for the reminder of safety tips.
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