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Recovery After Liposuction: What to Expect

The benefits of liposuction don’t happen overnight. Here's what to plan for after surgery.
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How is liposuction performed?

Liposuction is performed in a hospital, a surgeon's office, or an outpatient surgery clinic. 

Surgical approaches to liposuction

Your surgeon will perform liposuction using one of the following approaches:

  • Traditional liposuction, also called tumescent or fluid injection liposuction, is the most common type of liposuction. Your surgeon makes a few small incisions in the fat removal area and injects a fluid mixture containing a salt solution, a local anesthetic, and epinephrine through the incisions. This fluid prevents excessive blood loss, swelling, and bruising. Your surgeon then inserts a thin, hollow tube called a cannula into the incisions and pumps it back and forth to loosen and dislodge the fat cells. A small surgical vacuum or syringe is used to remove the fat through the cannula.

  • Ultrasound-assisted liposuction (UAL) is a type of liposuction that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for use in the United States in 1996. Your surgeon makes a few small incisions in the fat removal area and uses ultrasonic vibrations to heat and break up the fat. Your surgeon will apply these ultrasound vibrations above your skin with an emitter device, or below the skin with an ultrasonic cannula (a thin tube). A small surgical vacuum or syringe is used to remove the fat through the cannula. 

  • Laser-assisted liposuction is also called by its brand name: SmartLipo. The FDA approved laser-assisted liposuction in 2007. Your surgeon makes a few small incisions in the fat removal area and injects a fluid mixture containing a salt solution, a local anesthetic, and epinephrine through the incisions. This fluid prevents excessive blood loss, swelling, and bruising. Your surgeon inserts a thin laser fiber into the incisions to heat and loosen the fat. A small surgical vacuum or syringe is used to remove the fat through a cannula. 

Your surgeon will determine which type of surgery is best for you. Learn about the different liposuction procedures and ask why your surgeon will use a particular type for you.
Types of anesthesia that may be used

Your surgeon will perform liposuction using either regional anesthesia or general anesthesia: 

  • General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put you in a deep sleep. You are unaware of the procedure and will not feel any pain.

  • Regional anesthesia is also known as a nerve block. It involves injecting an anesthetic around certain nerves to numb a large area of the body. To numb a smaller area, your doctor injects the anesthetic in the skin and tissues around the procedure area (local anesthesia). You will likely have sedation with regional anesthesia to keep you relaxed and comfortable.

What to expect the day of your liposuction

The day of your surgery, you can expect to:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent.

  • Remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member. The surgical team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.

  • Meet with your surgeon. Your surgeon will use a special pen to mark the area(s) of your body where fat will be removed.

  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will receive.

  • A surgical team member will start an IV.

  • The anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will start your anesthesia.

  • A tube will be placed in your windpipe to protect and control breathing during general anesthesia. You will not feel or remember this or the surgery as they happen.

  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout the procedure and your recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 4, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Continuous peripheral nerve blocks in acute pain management. British Journal of Anaesthesia. http://bja.oxfordjournals.org/content/105/suppl_1/i86.abstract.
  2. Laser and Ultrasound Assisted Liposuction. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. http://www.plasticsurgery.org/Cosmetic-Procedures/Laser-and-Ultrasound-Assisted-Liposuction.html.
  3. Laser-assisted liposuction (SmartLipo). American Society of Plastic Surgeons. http://www.plasticsurgery.org/news-and-resources/technology-briefs/laser-assisted-liposuction-%28sma....
  4. Lipoma. Healthgrades. http://www.healthgrades.com/conditions/lipoma.
  5. Liposuction Information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/SurgeryandLifeSupport/Liposuction/def....
  6. Liposuction Procedure. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. http://www.plasticsurgery.org/Cosmetic-Procedures/Liposuction.html.

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