Is Liposuction Painful? Complications, Side Effects, Recovery, and Results

liposuction surgery

Liposuction may sound scary, but is that fear really justified? As with all procedures, knowing what you are getting yourself into can make all the difference.

Here, we answer some of the most common questions patients have for their surgeons both before and after the procedure.

Is liposuction painful?

Liposuction is an invasive procedure so it follows there could be some pain involved, but patients are always given sedatives to manage discomfort.

Some doctors suggest that the amount of pain is proportional to the amount of fat removed, and that the first two to four days of recovery are the worst in terms of discomfort. In order to manage this discomfort, medication is usually prescribed following liposuction.

What does liposuction feel like?

If you’re under general anesthesia, you won’t feel a thing during the procedure. Liposuction can also be performed using sedative drugs to induce a state of conscious sedation. While similar to general anesthesia, this twilight anesthesia leaves patients conscious, but relaxed, and unable to form new memories. If you’re given IV sedation, you are likely to feel some discomfort, usually a burning sensation.

The pain experienced during the recovery phase has also been compared to a severe muscular ache and may vary from one day to the next.

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What are the potential complications?

Complications from the procedure can be caused by several factors, among them: excessive liposuction for one session, negative reactions to the fluids injected, the dangers inherent to general anesthesia, or puncture wounds in the organs caused by surgical equipment.

Liposuction that involves laser and ultrasound may also result in burns, although the procedure is considered to be very safe when performed by a certified and experienced professional. As with any surgery, complications can arise during the healing process, especially if post-op instructions are not followed.

Potential post-surgical complications include:

  • Infection – Any invasive procedure comes with a risk of infection. This should be manageable provided you educate yourself about the symptoms of infection and seek treatment immediately should you encounter any.
  • Nerve injury – In rare cases, patients can experience nerve trauma that results in a persistent burning pain in specific areas. For patients who find themselves in this situation there are resources available to help manage and reduce this pain.
  • Skin irregularities – Some skin irregularities are a natural side effect and part of the healing process. However, sometimes these irregularities can become permanent. This generally happens when fat is removed unevenly or if a patient’s skin elasticity is unusually poor.
  • Skin ulcerations – These painful and unsightly sores are on the surface of the skin. If you notice sores developing after liposuction, consult your doctor immediately.
  • Skin necrosis – This happens when skin becomes infected and dies.
  • Fat embolism – Fat is loosened during the procedure, making it easier to remove. Sometimes, a piece of fat can escape and become lodged in a blood vessel. Clots like this are very dangerous and require immediate medical attention.
  • Blood clots – Inactivity during and after any surgery can put you at greater risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can be fatal.

What are the side effects of liposuction?

While complications are rare, side effects are fairly common. If you notice any of the following after your procedure, don’t worry. They are to be expected and will fade with time.

  • Swelling – Fluid from the procedure takes time to drain so It can be about a week before the swelling at the incision site goes down. Some swelling is a normal part of the healing process.
  • Numbness – Patients may experience a temporary numbness around the incision site.
  • Skin irregularities – Skin bagginess or rippling may occur early in the healing process. However, these irregularities should fade as the final results manifest.
  • Bruising – As the skin heals, there may be some significant and tender bruising near the incision site.
  • Burning sensation – In some cases, a burning nerve pain can occur in the weeks following liposuction.

What can I do to help prevent complications?

Many of the complications and side effects listed here are out of your control. For example, nerve damage occurs during surgery and won’t be corrected post-operatively. In order to reduce the chances of any complications, it is important to always choose a board-certified medical professional when undergoing liposuction.

Many side effects are simply part of the healing process and can’t be prevented. Nevertheless, there are still some things you can do to limit certain side effects and guard against potential complications.

  • Get up and move around – The simple activity of walking can prevent blood clots, but don’t hit the gym just yet. Make sure your movement is in accordance with your doctor’s post-operative guidelines.
  • Eat well – Liposuction can be a painful procedure so pain medication may be required. As these medications often causes constipation, make sure that your diet includes sufficient fiber. Do not use laxatives without consulting your physician.
  • Wear compression garments – Keep the site bound in accordance with your doctor’s directions. Using elastic compression garments will help with swelling and pain.
  • Take pain medication as prescribed – Your doctor has prescribed it for a reason. Stay on top of your pain. If you decide to use over-the-counter pain relievers, avoid aspirin (ibuprofen) as it is a blood thinner and could exacerbate the bleeding. In the rare cases where nerve pain persists after several weeks of recovery, additional medications, like Lyrica or neurontin may be prescribed for pain relief.
  • Follow post-op instructions for cleaning – To prevent infection, change your elastic bandages and thoroughly clean the site as per your doctor’s instructions.
  • Keep an eye out for infection – Educate yourself about the signs of infection which include: pus, a foul odor, and heat coming from the incision site. Inflammations and fever should be brought to your physician’s attention.

What are compression garments?

Think of an elastic girdle. The compression garment, or compression bandage, should be worn right away to reduce post-surgical bleeding in the treated area and should continue to be worn as the body heals to reduce swelling and pain.

Compression garments are form-fitting and aren’t visible beneath your clothes. It is important to choose a compression garment that is snug without being too tight.

Using a compression garment or bandages will depend on the location and size of the treated area.

How long does it take to recover?

The good news is that liposuction is an outpatient procedure so you’ll be able to go home the same day. As for how quickly you’ll bounce back, that’s a tricky question. Many doctors recommend resting at home for about a week before resuming normal activities or returning to work.

However, some patients report returning to their jobs after only a few days. Your readiness to resume working may depend on the amount of fat removed. As recovery is unique to each patient, use common sense and don’t push yourself too hard.

Regardless of when you go back to work, swelling and bruising could last for weeks after the procedure.

Most patients are required to wear a compression garment for up to six weeks after surgery. The end results of the procedure may not be fully realized for three to six months. Expect it to take a while before you feel like your old self again.

In general, recovery will be affected by the extent of the procedure, your overall health, and how well you adhere to the instructions of your cosmetic surgeon.

What will I look like after liposuction?

It’s important to understand that you won’t look your best right away. It can sometimes take as long as six months to see results and, even then, full results may continue to manifest for up to a year. A successful procedure will leave you with a flatter, more shapely, figure.

It’s important to have realistic expectations about what the procedure is meant to accomplish. Liposuction is not about weight loss; it’s about shaping body contours.

For the best results, partner the procedure with a proper diet and overall healthy lifestyle. An exercise routine is key, but avoid strenuous activity until after you have your doctor’s approval.

RELATED: Liposuction vs. Tummy Tuck — Results, Pictures, Recovery, and Cost

Will the results last?

We are all born with a certain number of fat cells in our bodies. These fat cells grow and shrink as we gain weight. The body can and does create new fat cells, but that process takes a lot of energy. Therefore, the body is more inclined to build on the existing fat cells.

Liposuction removes whole fat cells from the body. It targets areas of the body that are prone to fat accumulation and reduces the likelihood that the body will continue growing fat in those areas. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t gain weight or that the weight gain won’t affect your figure. It simply means that weight gain is likely to emerge in new areas first.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that there’s no guarantee fat deposits won’t reform in the treated areas.

Do repeat liposuction procedures pose greater risks?

Each liposuction procedure comes with its own risks. Procedures may pose a greater risk if performed too soon after the previous one. Repeat procedures targeting the same area of the body may pose an increased risk of complications.

You’re always more likely to get the best result the first time around. However, it’s not unheard of to have a second procedure to revise the outcome of the first.

Don’t be afraid to ask

If you’re serious about getting liposuction, the first thing to do is schedule an initial consultation with a plastic surgeon. Consultations are usually free and your surgeon will be able to advise you on the type of liposuction that’s right for you and which areas of your body to target.

There’s nothing to fear from liposuction. Educate yourself about the risks and warning signs for complications and don’t be afraid to call your doctor if something doesn’t feel right.

» To find out more about liposuction and other body contouring procedures, meet our medical review team.

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