Does liposuction really work? And how dangerous is it really?

retro pin up model with a vacuum cleaner

In a society where the best fix is the quickest one, liposuction seems like the ideal procedure. You just walk into a cosmetic surgeon’s office with some spare fat and walk out with artificially toned legs, arms, etc. What that doesn’t reveal is that liposuction is not a panacea for people who struggle with being overweight.

“It’s not a cure for obesity, even though a lot of people think it is. It’s an operation for thin people who have pockets of fat that are stubborn and don’t go away,” wrote an anonymous plastic surgeon for a New York Magazine article, “The Plastic Surgeon who Says Lipo is Basically Useless.”

Unfortunately, some doctors have a way of skirting this issue.

“Fifty percent of people who come in for lipo, I tell them they don’t need it,” the anonymous doctor said. “But you have a lot of practitioners who do lipo who aren’t plastic-trained surgeons.”

A good liposuction practitioner should provide a thorough consultation that examines risks and rewards possible for an individual. With such a wide variety of bodies, lipo isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of surgery. If botched — either because of bad surgery practices or because of patient error during recovery — the results can be pretty horrific. Risks for anyone undergoing liposuction include rippling skin, nerve damage and death. According to the Journal for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, liposuction has a fatality risk of 16 times rhinoplasty or breat augmentation.

In 1999, comedian Kathy Griffin underwent liposuction from the waist down in an attempt to “look like Jennifer Aniston.” But, the procedure didn’t go as planned.

“When I woke up I was not able to pee,” Griffin told People in 2003. “I got toxicity and had to go to the emergency room and wear a catheter for a week. It was life-threatening, and the results were nonexistent.”

Although Griffin recovered, others haven’t been so fortunate. Just last year, a 38-year-old mother died while in surgery for liposuction:

Risk of fatality aside, lipo isn’t the fat-removal cure it’s often made out to be. Even though it can be effective at removing pockets of fat, researchers at the University of Colorado found that lipo’ed fat comes back… Just in other parts of the body.

“It’s another chapter in the ‘You can’t fool Mother Nature’ story,’” Dr. Rudolph Leibel, an obesity researcher at Columbia University, told the New York Times.

Although there are plenty of “Liposuction is the BEST!” stories on subjective websites, some people who have undergone the procedure are willing to be more straight-forward about the results.

I’ve had liposuction on my hips and thighs twice, and I’ve gained back all the weight and more. The first time I had it — badly and unevenly, with minor nerve damage that lasted for years — the weight reappeared on my stomach, a place I’d never gained weight before. The second go-around, I had wonderful surgery combined with a tummy tuck (to get rid of stretched skin, the result of having twins) … and I pudged up again nine months later. This time, the fat seemed more evenly distributed, though I’m pretty sure it found a happy home on my ass. Out of sight, out of mind! — Judith Newman wrote for Marie Claire

For the same article, Newman consulted with a plastic surgeon about why liposuctioned fat has a way of redistributing.

“Liposuction isn’t about weight loss — you’re usually just taking off a couple of pounds — but about contouring,” said cosmetic dermatologic surgeon Dr. Howard Sobel. “So if you’re bothered by having hips that are out of balance with the rest of your body, liposuction will in all likelihood work for you even if the pounds return. Your body will be more symmetrical.”

Liposuction is not without purpose. It’s just time to stop glamorizing it and start realizing that, like most things in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to liposuction.

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  • Crystal

    is it just be or does the model at the top look like Christina Agularia

    • this

      I thought that the model at the top looks like Christina Aguilera too.

  • awoman

    Does the weight really “come back” or is it that they haven’t changed the bad habits that put it there to begin with?

    • anjealka

      The fat is going to return to the same areas. If you think about it , we all have our problemed areas, for some it is stomach, hips, or butt etc. If the dr takes fat out of one of your troubled areas and you gain any weight again for any reason , it will most likely go back to the same spot. Unless you stay on a strict diet, the fat deposits will return. I had plenty of co-workers who did lipo when it was more popular in the late 90’s and I did not see many with long lasting results.

      • awoman

        I don’t know if this really answered my question. It sounds like what you are saying is that it comes back because of lifestyle and diet.
        I understand that barring changing those things, fat would return to the same areas. What I’m asking is, if you did change them, would it return?

      • Guest

        My understanding is that fat redeposits in areas untreated by liposuction creating new problem areas and new health problems. Liposuction seems like a very misguided endeavor.

    • this

      According to studies and first person reviews, it goes to untreated areas even if good habits are maintained.

      • awoman

        Is there a new post linking to this page or something? Two new posts over the last 4 days and 2 likes on each when this is almost a year old seems strange.

    • leslie

      Funny enough, doctors tell patients to come in in their best shape before getting liposuction. “Problem areas” are actually healthy when at your peak shape because they are pockets of fat that hold and reserve most of your nutrients and hormones (which is especially important for fertile-aged or pregnant women). Another name for it is “estrogen-dominant” fat. I had a form of liposuction while I was at my peak health and shape (which I had always been in, and which refutes your statement that most liposuction patients come in with bad habits), and my fat redistributed for the worst. Not only did I get fat in my back, my bra bulge, and my arms – areas which were previously very skinny – I also developed an endocrine problem called “hypothyroidism” shortly after the procedure. And I was only 24 years old (hypothyroidism is most common in women in their 40s). So yes, weight really does come back.

  • stacie28

    Liposuction really works, believe me! This cosmetic procedure is not dangerous if you use a qualified and experienced surgeon. My liposuction treatment was also done by a great plastic surgeon named Dr. Jerome Edelstein and so I got amazing results. Liposuction actually improved my body contour and enhanced my self-image as well. I’m really happy with what I have achieved! 🙂

  • Wasn’t it Howard Stern who got lipo under his chin? He said it was a horrific experience and that he wished he’d never done it. I wouldn’t mind a little lipo in the same spot, I just have one of those faces, but I probably never will. I can live with myself.

  • this

    Fat doesn’t magically disappear forever because a “board certified doctor” suctions it out. You can search online for THE BELLY FINDS WHAT THE THIGHS LOSE. Search on line for “Did you gain weight after liposuction?” There will be adipose tissue re-accumulation in untreated areas (including viscerally, which is not healthy) after liposuction. There is a possible “honeymoon period” before this occurs, and many people post positive reviews before they have passed the honeymoon period (after the bruising and before the adipose tissue re-accumulation). My guess is that these people who are leaving positive reviews in the short-term are in for a surprise down the road. This procedure is VERY dangerous with many short and long-term health and cosmetic complications. The short term photos and reviews are horribly misleading – not even to mention the widespread minimization of the risks by “board certified plastic surgeons”. Liposuction doesn’t make sense due to the biology of fat, and the structural risks. Liposuction never should have been made legal. The full spectrum of harm caused by liposuction surgery is vast — Skin can PAINFULLY adhere to your underlying structure after liposuction; you can be left with pockets of hanging skin; your viscera can be perforated; insulin resistance increases; visceral fat can increase; fab embolus occurs – according to the study this occurs in all of the lab rats tested. The general public is largely unaware of the truth at this point, but as more people get liposuction and lose their health, the truth may begin to come out. Blaming the client for “patient error during recovery” is stunning, but expected. This is the marketing spin by an industry that doesn’t want to see their huge profits decreased. If liposuction were so benign, recovery wouldn’t cause someone to be permanently, significantly, painfully disfigured, as is happening with many victims of liposuction surgery. Many women who go in for needed breast reduction get talked into having a little “add on” done to “balance out their body.” Many surgeons exceed consent. They are just guessing anyway. They don’t have a way to accurately measure what is fat or what is skin. Liposuction is a huge, money-making sham.

    • this

      As far as searching for “Did you gain weight after liposuction”, I suggest you read what patients have to say in online discussions, and not the doctors who are in the business to make a profit.

  • this

    Also, doctors pay people to write fake reviews.

    There is much to really consider when you think about the hype of liposuction. Does it make sense to you that a doctor would vacuum out your fat in certain areas of your body and it will stay away? If so, I am really concerned about what schools are teaching about biology.

  • Patricia

    This article is strange. First the goofy picture of a porno type model with a vacuum cleaner and then a story about a death relating to lipo and then tips on how to pick a good lipo provider. Liposuction is a dangerous procedure and I don’t think the issue is finding a ‘good’ provider. If you look around online you see so many stories of bad outcomes including death and disfigurement. The post below from “stacie28” sure seems like one of those fake reviews. It has all the ‘code’ words and includes the surgeons name. Hmmm…

  • liposuctionruinedmylife

    Does liposuction really work? No. Patient testimonies and studies show that their is fat redistribution in weird, unwanted places, creating more damage to the shape of a woman’s body. Not only that, but you can have visceral fat that is known to be quite harmful to your overall health. Whoever says liposuction works, probably has not had their hormones tested or has not had a thorough physical exam. Liposuction has caused many woman to develop hyperthyroidism – (which can cause undesired uncontrollable weight gain; defeats the purpose of lipo.) My aunt developed hyperthyroidism after liposculture. Other women notice a change in their hormones, I can attest to this, my hormones are out of balance now, making me have irregular menstrual cycles. Never did I have a problem with this before.

    How dangerous is it really? Liposuction can cause dents, burns, skin-on-muscle adherence (extremely painful, I have this), infections, rashes, permanent nerve damage, numbness, discoloration, lumps, scar tissue formation, burning/pulling sensations, searing pain, swelling of other body parts, and the list goes on.