Liposuction: The Risks and Side Effects of a Scary Procedure

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Any medical procedure carries with it the potential for complications and side effects, and liposuction is no exception.

This cosmetic surgery, which is meant to improve the body’s contour by removing excess fat, is becoming more common in a day and age when fast fixes are available for some of life’s more troublesome quandaries – such as body image.

But there are some serious drawbacks to consider before proclaiming liposuction as the cure to your weight-loss woes.

Here are just 10 risks and side effects of liposuction to first take into account:

1. Risk of Infection

As with any surgical procedure, liposuction carries with it the risk of infection. This complication can arise during the procedure – potentially due to equipment not being properly sanitized – or afterwards, if the wound is not kept clean.

Some warning signs to keep an eye out for include fever or any hot, reddened areas on your body.

2. Permanent Nerve Damage Can Occur

Nerve damage is another risk associated with most surgeries, and it may temporarily surface after liposuction. After undergoing the procedure, patients may experience numbness that eventually goes away on its own.

In some rare cases, however, nerve damage can be permanent. While it sometimes presents as numbness, it can also come in the form of increased sensitivity in the areas treated by liposuction. Patients who experience these sensations for weeks after their surgery should contact their physician.

3. Loss of Elasticity

While patients may be pleased with the fat removal aspect of liposuction, some may not be so happy with the way it leaves their skin.

Skin irregularities – including ripples, bumps, lumps, dents and waves – can occur after the surgery as the skin shrinks against a new physical contour.

Compression garments and massage are said to help smooth and tighten skin, but loose skin could be permanent if it has too little elasticity.

4. The Balloon Effect

One of liposuction’s expected side effects is temporary swelling of the suctioned areas. Swelling usually goes down within one to three months, but can take more than six months to fully resolve.

This side effect can be managed with a compression garment or by keeping incision sites open, allowing inflammatory fluid to drain instead of being trapped under the skin by stitches.

5. Seroma: The Risk of Unusual Swelling

Pockets of fluid pooling under the skin, called Seroma, is a risk patients take when undergoing liposuction. It can be identified by unusual swelling, and may require the fluid to be drained surgically.

Hematoma, which is a collection of blood under the skin due to the breaking of a blood vessel, is a similar side effect liposuction patients could potentially face. Some factors increase the chances of such a complication occurring, however, one of the most common being obesity.

6. Aesthetic Outcome Might Not ‘Match’ Expectations

Sometimes an unfavourable side effect of liposuction isn’t necessarily a medical one. Patients may be dissatisfied with the aesthetic outcome of the procedure if a suctioned area doesn’t look the way they envisioned.

A potential issue is when two sides of the body don’t look identical. Asymmetry may be temporary due to swelling on one side of the body, or it may be a permanent problem that requires surgical correction.

7. Risk of Blood Clots

A blood clot in the lung is a serious risk associated with surgery such as liposuction, and – in the most severe cases – can be fatal.

Symptoms of this complication, called pulmonary thromboembolism, include shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

Some preventative measures can be taken, however, including wearing compression stockings and encouraging mobility during recovery.

8. Organ Injury a Potential Liposuction Complication

An injury to an organ within the abdominal cavity is a potential complication that can be resolved if diagnosed early enough. In some situations, however, such an injury can be fatal. This might be the case if an intestine is punctured and infection spreads throughout the abdominal cavity before the problem is noticed.

9. Pulmonary Edema

An excessive collection of fluid in the lungs, known as pulmonary edema, could be a side effect of liposuction if excessive amounts of intravenous fluids are used during and after the procedure.

One liposuction technique, however, eliminates the need for IV fluids. In tumescent liposuction, an injection of dilute local anesthetic into the tissue provides fluid to the body instead.

10. The Dreaded D Word: Death

While it may be uncommon – rare, even – death is certainly a risk factor of a serious surgical procedure such as liposuction.

Statistics on deaths due to liposuction differ from study to study, with some indicating a low risk figure of three deaths for every 100,000 liposuction surgeries, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Other studies point to a higher risk of 20 to 100 deaths per 100,000 procedures.

A Word of Advice

With a number of risks and side effects to consider, liposuction is not a surgery to be taken lightly. While the end result may be positively life changing, the road to get there should be the safest one possible.

However, ensuring a successful and satisfying experience is not a health practitioner’s responsibility alone. There are steps every individual can take to help avoid potentially harmful complications.

Patients should ensure surgeons are accredited with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and that the procedure is performed in a safe facility such as a hospital.

Patients’ medical history and current health conditions should be taken into account before they are given the green light, and the various liposuction techniques should be researched to determine an individual’s most suitable course of action. Too much liposuction in one day should be avoided, as should the combination of the surgery with other medical procedures.

Even before one travels down the liposuction route, he or she should first try less invasive measures to achieve the desired end result. Diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes can be safe and healthy – not to mention less expensive – avenues to an improved physical appearance.

So before committing to a serious procedure, consider all the drawbacks that could potentially result from that decision. And, if you still want to proceed, be your own advocate in ensuring a safe and effective treatment.

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