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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Medical Devices

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What are the Risks or Complications?

Risks

Most patients are pleased with the outcome of their liposuction surgery. However, like any other medical procedure, there are risks involved. That's why it is important for you to understand the limitations and possible complications of liposuction surgery. Before you have liposuction, you should be aware of these risks and should weigh the risks and benefits based on your own personal value system. Try to avoid being influenced by friends that have had the procedure or doctors encouraging you to do so. Decide for yourself whether you are willing to take the risks involved in liposuction.

Take your time deciding if you are willing to accept the risks inherent in liposuction. Because it is usually a cosmetic procedure, and not medically necessary, there is no reason to rush. Gather as much information as you can so that you make an informed decision about whether liposuction is right for you. Don't believe that complications "only happen to other people." It is important for you to understand what the risks are and decide if you are willing to accept the possibility that it might happen to you.

Complications

  • Infections. Infections may happen after any surgery and may occur after liposuction. Some physicians prescribe an antibiotic to all patients undergoing liposuction but other physicians do not. It is important to keep the wound(s) clean but even if you do, infections may sometimes occur from the surgery. Sometimes, infections may be serious or life threatening such as in cases of necrotizing fasciitis (bacteria eat away at the tissue) or with toxic shock syndrome, a serious, sometimes fatal infection caused by a bacteria, that is associated with surgery (you may have heard of toxic shock syndrome occurring in women using tampons, also).
  • Embolism. Embolism may occur when fat is loosened and enters the blood through blood vessels ruptured (broken) during liposuction. Pieces of fat get trapped in the blood vessels, gather in the lungs, or travel to the brain. The signs of pulmonary emboli (fat clots in the lungs) may be shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. If you have the signs or symptoms of fat emboli after liposuction, it is important for you to seek emergency medical care at once. Fat emboli may cause permanent disability or, in some cases, be fatal.
  • Visceral Perforations (puncture wounds in the organs). During liposuction, the physician is unable to see where the canula or probe is. It is possible to puncture or damage internal organs during liposuction. This may happen, for instance, if the intestines are punctured during abdominal liposuction. When organs are damaged, surgery may be required to repair them. Visceral perforations may also be fatal.
  • Seroma. After liposuction, there may be a pooling of serum, the straw colored liquid from your blood, in areas where tissue has been removed.
  • Nerve Compression and Changes in Sensation. You may experience "paresthesias" which is an altered sensation at the site of the liposuction. This may either be in the form of an increased sensitivity (pain) in the area, or the loss of any feeling (numbness) in the area. If these changes in sensation persist for a long period of time (weeks or months) you should inform your physician. In some cases, these changes in sensation may be permanent.
  • Swelling. Swelling or edema may occur after liposuction. In some cases, swelling may persist for weeks or months after liposuction.
  • Skin Necrosis (skin death). The skin above the liposuction site may become necrotic or "die." When this happens, skin may change color and be sloughed (fall) off. Large areas of skin necrosis may become infected with bacteria or microorganisms.
  • Fluid Imbalance. Fat tissue, which contains a lot of liquid, is removed during liposuction. Also, physicians may inject large amounts of fluids during liposuction. This may result in a fluid imbalance. While you are in the physician's office, surgical center or hospital, the staff will be watching you for signs of fluid imbalance. However, this may happen after you go home and can result in serious conditions such as heart problems, excess fluid collecting in the lungs, or kidney problems as your kidneys try to maintain fluid balance.
  • Toxicity from Anesthesia. Lidocaine, a drug that numbs the skin, is frequently used as a local anesthetic during liposuction. You may have had a similar drug, novocaine, to numb your mouth at the dentist. Large volumes of liquid with lidocaine may be injected during liposuction. This may result in very high doses of lidocaine. The signs of this are lightheadedness, restlessness, drowsiness, tinnitis (a ringing in the ears), slurred speech, metallic taste in the mouth, numbness of the lips and tongue, shivering, muscle twitching and convulsions. Lidocaine toxicity may cause the heart to stop. Of course, this can be fatal. In general, any type of anesthesia may cause complications and is always considered a risk during any surgery.
  • Fatalities Related to Liposuction. There are numerous reports of deaths related to the liposuction procedure. Although it is difficult to be sure how often death from liposuction happens, there are several studies that estimate how often patients undergoing liposuction die during the procedure or as a result of it. None of the studies is perfect so the results are just estimates.
  • Some of the studies indicate that the risk of death due to liposuction is as low as 3 deaths for every 100,000 liposuction operations performed. However, other studies indicate that the risk of death is between 20 and 100 deaths per 100,000 liposuction procedures. One study suggests that the death rate is higher in liposuction surgeries in which other surgical procedures are also performed at the same time. In order to understand the size of the risk, one paper compares the deaths from liposuction to that for deaths from car accidents (16 per 100,000). It is important to remember that liposuction is a surgical procedure and that there may be serious complications, including death.