As with any surgery, there are certain risks, beyond the temporary and minor side effects. The surgeon should mention them during a consultation. Careful patient selection minimizes their occurrence. Their likelihood is somewhat increased when treated areas are very large or numerous and a large amount of fat is removed.
During the 1990s there were some deaths as a result of liposuction, as well as alarmingly high rates of complication. By studying more and educating themselves further, surgeons have reduced complication rates. A study published in ''Dermatologic Surgery'' (July 2004, pp. 967-978), found that "The overall clinical complication rate liposuction ... was 0.7% (5 out of 702)", the minor complication rate was 0.57%, and the major complication rate was 0.14% with one patient requiring hospitalization.
The more serious possible complications include:
- Allergic reaction to medications or material used during surgery.
- Infection: any time the body is incised or punctured, bacteria can get in and cause an infection. During liposuction, multiple small puncture wounds are made for inserting the cannula, that can vary in size depending on the technique.
- Damage to the skin: most surgeons work on the deeper levels of fat, so as to avoid wounding the skin any more than they must for the insertion of the cannula.
- Sometimes the cannula can damage tissue beneath the skin, which may show up as a spotted appearance on the skin surface.
- Skin necrosis (dead skin) is a rare complication, in which the skin falls off in the necrotic area. The problem can vary in degree. The resulting wound then needs to heal typically requiring extended wound care.
- Puncture of an internal organ: since the surgeon can't see the cannula, sometimes it damages an internal organ, such as the intestines during abdominal liposuction. Such damage can be corrected surgically, although in rare cases it can be fatal. An experienced cosmetic surgeon is unlikely to puncture any internal organ.
- Contour irregularities: sometimes the skin may look bumpy and/or withered, because of uneven fat removal, or poor skin elasticity. Not all patients heal in the same way, and with older patients the healing may be slower and a bit imperfect. Sometimes a small touch-up procedure can help.
- Thromboembolism and fat embolisation: although liposuction is a low-risk procedure for thromboembolism including pulmonary embolism, the risk can't be ignored.
- Burns: sometimes the cannula movement can cause friction burns to skin or nerves. Also, in UAL, the heat from the ultrasound device can cause injury to the skin or deeper tissue.
- Lidocaine toxicity: when the super-wet or tumescent methods are used, too much saline fluid may be injected, or the fluid may contain too high a concentration of lidocaine. Then the lidocaine may become too much for that particular person’s system. Lidocaine poisoning at first causes tingling and numbness and eventually seizures, followed by unconsciousness and respiratory or cardiac arrest.
- Fluid imbalance: since fat contains a lot of fluid and is removed in liposuction, and since the surgeon injects fluid for the procedure, even a very large amount of it for tumescent liposuction, there is a danger of the body’s fluid balance being disturbed. This could happen afterwards, after the patient is at home. If too much fluid remains in the body, the heart, lungs and kidneys could be badly affected.
The cosmetic surgeon should give the participant a written list of symptoms to watch for, along with instructions for post-op self-care.
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