What you can expect

Before the procedure

Before liposuction, the surgeon might mark circles and lines on the areas of your body to be treated. Photos also might be taken so that before and after images can be compared.

How your liposuction procedure is done depends on the specific technique that's used:

  • Tumescent liposuction. This is the most common type of liposuction. The surgeon injects a sterile solution — a mixture of salt water, which aids fat removal, an anesthetic (lidocaine) to relieve pain and a drug (epinephrine) that causes the blood vessels to constrict — into the area that's being treated. The fluid mixture causes the affected area to swell and stiffen.

    The surgeon then makes small cuts into your skin and inserts a thin tube called a cannula under your skin. The cannula is connected to a vacuum that suctions fat and fluids from your body. Your body fluid might be replenished through an intravenous (IV) line.

  • Ultrasound-assisted liposuction (UAL). This type of liposuction is sometimes used in conjunction with tumescent liposuction. During UAL, the surgeon inserts a metal rod that emits ultrasonic energy under your skin. This ruptures the fat cell walls and liquefies the fat for easier removal.
  • Laser-assisted liposuction (LAL). This technique uses high-intensity laser light to liquefy fat for removal. During LAL, the surgeon inserts a laser fiber through a small incision and emulsifies fat deposits. The fat is then removed via a cannula.
  • Powered liposuction. This type of liposuction uses a cannula that moves in a rapid back-and-forth motion. This vibration allows the surgeon to pull out tough fat more easily. Powered liposuction might sometimes cause less pain and swelling and can allow the surgeon to remove fat with more precision, especially on smaller areas, such as the arms, knees or ankles.

During the procedure

Some liposuction procedures might require only local or regional anesthesia — anesthesia limited to a specific area of your body. Other procedures might require general anesthesia, which induces a temporary state of unconsciousness. You might be given a sedative, typically through an IV injection, to help you remain calm and relaxed.

The surgical team will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen level throughout the procedure. If you feel pain, tell your surgeon. The medication or motions might need adjustment.

The procedure might last up to several hours, depending on the extent of fat removal. After the procedure, the surgeon might leave your incisions open to promote fluid drainage.

If you've had general anesthesia, you'll wake up in a recovery room. You'll typically spend at least a few hours in the hospital or clinic so that medical personnel can monitor your recovery. If you're in a hospital, you might stay overnight to make sure that you're not dehydrated or in shock from fluid loss.

After the procedure

Expect some pain, swelling and bruising after the procedure. You might need to wait a few days before returning to work and a few weeks before resuming your normal activities — including exercise.

Your surgeon might prescribe medication to help control pain and antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection. You also might need to wear tight compression garments, which help reduce swelling, for a few weeks. During this time, expect some contour irregularities as the remaining fat settles into position.