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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 46  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 377-392

Unfavourable outcomes of liposuction and their management

Department of Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery Hinduja Healthcare Surgical and Dr. LH Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication21-Sep-2013

Correspondence Address:
Varun V Dixit
1501-E Wing, Runwal Centre, Govandi Station Road, Govandi (East), Deonar, Mumbai - 400 088, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0970-0358.118617

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 » Abstract 

Liposuction is one of the most popular cosmetic surgery procedures currently performed by plastic surgeons around the world. It must be clear at the outset that liposuction is not primarily a modality for weight loss, it is meant to be a body contouring procedure and therefore the inherent limitations and safety issues related to this must always be respected if complications and unfavourable results are to be avoided as far as possible.

Keywords: Complications of liposuction; liposuction pitfalls; unfavourable results of liposuction

How to cite this article:
Dixit VV, Wagh MS. Unfavourable outcomes of liposuction and their management. Indian J Plast Surg 2013;46:377-92

How to cite this URL:
Dixit VV, Wagh MS. Unfavourable outcomes of liposuction and their management. Indian J Plast Surg [serial online] 2013 [cited 2019 Jul 19];46:377-92. Available from:

 » History Top

Since the introduction of liposuction several modifications have been made to the original concept to make it more effective and to reduce the incidence of complications. The original concept of removing excess fat from localised parts of the body is credited to Charles Dujarrier, who in 1921 attempted to remove subcutaneous fat by using a uterine curette from the calf and knees of a ballerina. [1],[2] However, an inadvertent injury to the femoral vessels resulted in the amputation of the dancer's leg. This unfortunate complication obviously dampened interest and curbed further development in this procedure for many decades.

Modern liposuction began with the technique and instruments of Giorgio Fischer and Arpad Fischer; who first reported the use of hollow instruments and suction apparatus for liposuction in 1976. [2] Shortly thereafter, Pierre Fournier further improved on this technique and advocated the 'dry technique' for liposuction. [3] However, the widespread acceptance and popularity of liposuction is due to Illouz who devised the 'wet technique' for liposuction and introduced the concept of "discontinuous dissection." [4] Interestingly, it was an Otolaryngologist-Julius Newman who first used the term 'liposuction' in 1983. [2] The next milestone was in 1987, when Klein reported unprecedented safety with the use of 'tumescent liposuction.' [5] In 1989, Marco Gasparotti described 'superficial subdermal liposuction,' which enabled more effective skin retraction and thus further widened the utility of this procedure. [6]

Concomitant with the change in surgical techniques, newer devices were devised in an attempt to improve the ease and safety profile of liposuction. Power assisted liposuction (PAL) was developed by Rebelo. [7] Ultrasound assisted liposuction (UAL) was developed by Michael Zocchi. [8] The technique of Laser assisted liposuction has also been described. [9] The most recent addition has been water-jet assisted liposuction; which was devised by Taufig in 2000. [10] With the advent of newer technological advances the conventional 'manually done' liposuction is now commonly referred to as suction assisted liposuction (SAL).

As mentioned above, the primary goal of liposuction is to reduce fat deposits in specific localised areas and achieve the well-proportioned body contours without much down-time. Liposuction has evolved dramatically over almost four decades to become possibly the most frequently done cosmetic surgery procedure in the world. The evolution of different techniques and equipment was evidently stimulated by the desire to decrease the surgeon's physical effort, to enhance the efficacy and selectivity of the actual removal of fat while preserving the fibrous tissue and neurovascular architecture and to minimise patient pain and discomfort. Although liposuction can be considered a safe procedure if fundamental principles are always respected, several scientifically published papers as well as reports in the lay-press indicate that it can have significant sequelae if this is not followed. [11]

This article aims to compile the possible unfavourable outcomes of this most favoured cosmetic surgery procedure, aims to identify the possible risk factors and causes for these problems and seeks to enlist general and specific guidelines to avoid pitfalls as well as to discuss the management of these complications.

 » Complications Following Liposuction Top

Liposuction is associated with a variety of complications, most of which can be avoided. These complications can be broadly categorised into three groups as shown in [Table 1]. [12],[13],[14]
Table 1: Complications

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From January 2007 to December 2012, we have done more than 600 cases of liposuction involving various parts of the body-abdomen, thighs, back, arms, calves, upper neck and lower face, chest, buttocks etc., All patients underwent SAL. We have had a small number of patients with local complications and an even smaller number with systemic complications. We have also had our share of dissatisfied patients, although with experience we have been able to identify potentially difficult or problem patients with a fair amount of accuracy.

 » Local Complications Top

Oedema and ecchymosis

Swelling or oedema is anticipated after almost every liposuction procedure as a normal reaction of the human tissues to the actual surgical trauma of the cannula similar to the response of sterile inflammation that occurs after any trauma [Figure 1]. This is usually controlled by the immediate use of a compression garment for a period of 4-6 weeks. This swelling will be apparent within 24-48 h after the procedure and continues to mildly increase for the first 10-14 days. It is soft and mildly tender without any significant signs of inflammation. Thereafter, as the remnants of the infiltrated fluid, serum and broken down fat are absorbed by the body, the swelling changes to a more firm to woody consistency with no or minimal pain and discomfort by the end of 2-3 weeks. By the end of 4 weeks, parts of the operated swollen areas start to soften in patches until the entire area shows a consistent softening by the end of 6-8 weeks. Depending on the extensiveness of the operated area, the tissues tend to return to a normal pliant feel by 3 months after the procedure. Rarely, brawny post-operative oedema with unusual pain and discomfort persists beyond 6 weeks and according to Shiffman this may be due to excessive trauma to the tissues leading to an internal burn-like injury. [12] This will then take a longer time to settle and may result in increased scarring, fibrosis and often surface contour irregularities.
Figure 1: Excessive post-operative swelling after abdominal liposuction (day 7)

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Persistent oedema can also be related to pre-operative anaemia, reduced serum proteins and kidney malfunction all which are a contraindication to surgery. If they are suspected post-operatively, significant anaemia needs to be corrected with blood transfusions if necessary, lowered protein levels with a high protein diet and kidney malfunction with the requisite nephrological measures.

It is believed that PAL by reducing the surgeon's efforts and hence the resultant overall trauma to the tissues can reduce the post-operative swelling compared to SAL. On the other hand, it is commonly observed that the swelling after UAL is somewhat more than that seen with PAL or SAL. Whether this is attributable to the heat generated by the ultrasonic probe or greater damage to lymphatics is a matter of debate.

So some of the methods that are commonly employed to minimise post-operative oedema are:

  • Applying an optimum compressive garment immediately after surgery [15]
  • Not suturing the incisions as recommended by Toledo and Mauad applying bulky absorbent dressings for the 1 st 24-48 h to allow the excess remnant fluid and serous reaction to flow out. [14] However, in our experience this can prove very cumbersome and unpleasant for many patients and its utility is not unequivocally advantageous
  • Various authors recommend the use of PAL [7],[16]
  • Providing manual lymphatic drainage in the early post-operative period. [14]
In our experience gentle liposuctioning, an optimum compressive garment and early lymphatic drainage massage helps to accelerate the clearance of oedema. In our series, 1.7% patients had significant persistent oedema post-operatively. All of them were managed conservatively with extended use of compression garment and massaging. In resistant cases, Shiffman advises repeat liposuction with adequate compression. [12]

Bruising and ecchymosis also occur in all liposuction patients immediately after the procedure, peaks by the end of 7-10 days, but generally disappear by 2-4 weeks after surgery. Unusually severe and persistent bruising/ecchymosis may be related to chronic smoking, use of blood thinners and abnormal bleeding/clotting profile. Very rarely, it may be related to bleeding from superficial veins damaged during the liposuction.

Smokers must be clearly advised to stop smoking completely at least 3 weeks prior to major liposuction, blood thinners stopped with a physician's clearance at least a week prior to surgery and an abnormal bleeding/clotting profile corrected with Vitamin K injections or other appropriate means. Any venous bleeding is best controlled with prolonged compression.


The collection of serous fluid in a liposuctioned area may be due to excessive tissue trauma, following aggressive oversuctioning of a single area with extensive breaking of the fibrous tissue network leading to a single cavity formation or it may be due to significant damage to the lymphatics. [12] In our experience if the compression garment given to the patient does not fit well or the patient repeatedly removes the garment and puts it back on, this also contributes to seroma formation. Some studies indicate that UAL is associated with a higher incidence of seromas. [17],[18]

A localised serous collection is usually detected by the 5 th to 7 th post-operative day. At this stage, if additional padding is provided over the specific area within the compression garment then in many cases the seroma settles in 7-10 days. We have observed localised seromas in 3.5% of our cases. Seromas are most common in the outer and posterior thighs and in the lower abdomen.

We have also observed a unique seroma-like presentation when the fluid gravitates to the scrotum or labia following abdominal, especially pubic fat liposuction [Figure 2]. In our experience, this presents a more frightening spectacle than it actually is and it usually settles over 10 days to 2 weeks. When pubic fat liposuction is planned, patient is asked to anticipate this sequel so that he/she is not surprised. We have managed to largely prevent this problem by restricting excessive mobility for the first 3 days after surgery and having the patients wear a snug fitting undergarment over the compression garment. On two occasions, persistent large serous collections in the scrotum were aspirated at 2 weeks followed by compression dressings and resolved uneventfully thereafter.
Figure 2: Penile oedema and scrotal seroma following abdominal liposuction. 300 ml serous fluid was aspirated

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Shiffman has recommended the following management protocol for persistent seromas: [12]

  • Needle aspiration under sterile conditions followed by adequate compression dressings. Some cases may require repeated aspirations
  • In resistant cases, drains may be inserted with compression dressings and prophylactic antibiotics
  • For chronic seromas (more than 4 weeks); the serous fluid is aspirated and an equal amount of air should be injected to cause irritation and collapse of cavity
  • In recalcitrant cases, curetting of the lining of the cavity or excision of pseudocyst may be performed
  • Use of locally injected tetracycline (500 mg diluted in 2 cc normal saline) or triamcinolone acetonide (Kenacort 40 mg/ml) has also been recommended.

A thorough pre-operative evaluation consisting of complete blood count with platelets, liver function tests and coagulation profile goes a long way in preventing haematoma formation. [13] It is also recommended that patients must stop smoking and medications such as aspirin, clopidogrel, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, vitamin E, glucosamine, chondroitin, ginseng and ginkgobiloba at least 7 days before surgery. [13]

During the surgery, use of super-wet (1:1.5-1:2) or tumescent method of infiltration containing 1:1,000,000 adrenaline is recommended to minimise bleeding. [19] Hunstad recommends waiting for at least 20 min after infiltration for an optimum vasoconstrictor effect of adrenaline. [20] Similarly, use of micro-cannulae (diameter of 3 mm or lesser) with blunt tips play an important role in reducing bleeding and consequent haematoma formation. [13] Post-operative use of customised compression garments is crucial for reducing bleeding. [13]

In our experience, with the use of above mentioned principles, we have had only one patient developing a small post-operative haematoma.

La Trenta recommends small haematomas to be left alone; moderate sized haematomas to be allowed to liquefy and aspirated followed by compression garments and large sized haematomas to be drained through the liposuction port or by repeat liposuctioning followed by suction drains in selected cases. [15]


The occurrence of infection after liposuction is fortunately very rare and various authors report incidence of lesser than 1%. [13],[14],[15] In our experience of 600 cases, the incidence of infection in liposuction patients was 0.3%. Both our cases had small abscesses and patches of full thickness skin necrosis in the adjacent area. The most common local cause of such infection is the presence of a haematoma in the subcutaneous tissues with secondary bacterial contamination.

The most common systemic cause of infection is uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes. Pre-operative investigations must include blood sugar levels especially for patients above 30 years of age or with family history of diabetes mellitus. Diabetic patients must have good glycemic control peri-operatively to reduce this risk. According to Igra and Lanzer, patients with an immune-compromised state (sero-positive, oral corticosteroids etc.,) are less than ideal patients for liposuction. [13] They also recommend that patients should stop smoking at least 2 weeks prior to and 7 days after surgery. Toledo and Mauad recommends the use of peri-operative injectable antibiotics, followed for prophylactic oral antibiotics for 5-7 days in all cases of major liposuction. [14]

Basic surgical principles such as proper hand washing, sterile operating room conditions, good skin preparation and gentle tissue handling must be followed. Liposuction cannulae must be sterilised adequately-the cannulae must be washed properly to remove blood and tissue bits and dried well before autoclaving or sterilising them. [21] There have been reports of atypical mycobacterium infection due to improperly sterilised cannulae. [22]

Any sign of infection-such as significant erythema, tenderness or blisters should be treated aggressively with culture sensitive antibiotics and closely observed for appropriate further management. This may include opening the lipo-access incisions to allow drainage of collections, formal incision and drainage of abscesses, debridement of ischaemic and necrotic patches and regular dressings including use of negative pressure wound therapy/Vacuum-Assisted Closure.


Liposuction is a tool for body sculpting and it demands a 3D artistic understanding of the anatomical and surgical adipose layers. [23] It requires practical application of scientific knowledge with artistry as well as precision, a skill that is attained only with clinical experience. [24]

Over-correction means excess fat has been liposuctioned, more than the desired contour line. In our experience, the areas commonly associated with this problem are:

  • Inner aspect of thighs (mid portion) [Figure 3]
    Figure 3: Example of overcorrection in thigh - (a) Pre-operative and (b) post-operative (red arrow showing overcorrected area on inner thigh)

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  • Outer aspect of thighs (below trochanteric bulge) [Figure 4]
    Figure 4: Another example of overcorrection in thigh - (a) Pre-operative and (b) post-operative (red arrow showing overcorrected area on outer thigh)

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  • Sensuous triangle at the junction of the lateral buttocks, the lateral thigh and the posterior thigh
  • Incision sites.

Illouz recommends that as a rule the contour should be slightly under-corrected to allow for post-operative fat lysis, which will amplify the result. [25]

Pre-operatively, it is imperative to meticulously examine the patient in the upright position; in both static as well as dynamic states (i.e. with muscle contraction). Any asymmetry between the two sides, any already present contour irregularities and depressions must be pointed out to the patient, mentioned on paper and marked carefully. This is especially relevant in the 'increased risk' areas mentioned above, such as when examining the trochanteric region to differentiate between a true and false saddle-bag. On contracting the buttocks, if the saddle bag reduces then it is a false saddle bag due to the weight of the buttocks. This would require liposuctioning of the lateral buttocks as well as the saddle-bags whereas a true saddle bag requires liposuction of the trochanteric region alone. [25],[26]

In the banana fold area, over-correction especially of the deep layer of fat leads to buttock ptosis due to damage to the supporting fibrous tissue septae. Donofrio recommends liposuction of the superficial fat layer only in this region to avoid this complication, which is very difficult to correct. [26]

Improper positioning of the patient may create false contours during the procedure, which may lead to over-correction. For example, Donofrio recommends that trochanteric liposuction should be done ideally in the lateral position with a wedge placed between the two thighs. [26] A supine or prone position tends to exaggerate the bulges, leading to inadvertent over-liposuction.

It is now well-established that use of microcannulae (diameter 3 mm or lesser) reduces the risk for over-correction as compared to larger cannulae [27] as they remove fat in small pieces rather than in larger chunks, especially close to the skin surface.

Incision sites often show depressions due to repeated passes with the suction staying on as the cannula is being withdrawn. This can be prevented by always switching off the suction before withdrawing the cannula. [12] Although the criss-cross fanned out technique of liposuction is recommended for smooth and even contours, it can also be a double-edged sword. If performed incorrectly, it may lead to depressions due to excess fat removal in the overlapped or common areas. Toledo and Mauad recommends that after completion of liposuction, the areas should be thoroughly assessed by the pinch test and by wetting the surface and sweeping the hand or a roller over the surface to detect any contour irregularities. [14]

If contour irregularities are noted at the end of liposuction while the patient is still on the operation table, Saylan has described a technique called 'liposhifting' which may be employed to treat over-corrected areas. [28] Several reports have shown that autologous fat transplantation (AFT) produces aesthetically acceptable results in post-liposuction contour deformities. [29],[30],[31],[32] Toledo and Mauad recommends routine harvesting of a few syringes of fat prior to SAL so that it may be re-injected in cases of inadvertent over-liposuctioning in any area. [14] Hunstad also reports intra-operative lipo-filling of the over-corrected area to be very effective. [33] As advised by Illouz, some cases may require concomitant AFT of depressed area and liposuction of adjacent bulges. [25]

If not detected on the table, an over-corrected area manifests as a depression or a contour irregularity after surgery, either at the time of the first follow-up or once the post-operative swelling reduces. It is recommended to wait for at least 6 months before revision surgery is planned during which time the patient should be reassured that this can be corrected. This allows the oedema to completely settle so as to permit correct evaluation of the contour deformity. [29]

In our series, 3.7% of patients had over-correction leading to contour deformity in specific small areas. Only one patient had immediate AFT on the operation table, which solved the problem. 5-6 others underwent AFT for contour correction as a secondary procedure after 3-6 months. One of them resorted to temporary fillers to fill the depressed area.


Under-correction of a contour implies leaving behind excess residual fat in parts of the liposuctioned area. In our experience, we have encountered this problem in 5.3% cases, all of which were in the first half of our series. The areas commonly involved were-arms (just proximal to the elbow and immediately adjacent to the lipo-access incision), flanks [Figure 5], peri-umbilical region [Figure 6], trochanteric region and supra-patellar region.
Figure 5: Example of undercorrection in flanks - (a) Pre-operative and (b) post-operative (red arrow showing undercorrected area in the left flank)

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Figure 6: Another example of undercorrection in abdomen - (a) Pre-operative (b) post-operative (red arrow showing undercorrected area and blue arrow showing hyperpigmentation) and (c) after touch-up liposuction

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As recommended by Toledo and Mauad, diligently assessing the areas by the pinch test and sweep test when liposuction is completed helps to identify any residual fat deposits. [14] These deposits must be meticulously suctioned to improve the overall contours.

Any corrective measures, for under-correction not detected during surgery, should be undertaken after a period of 6 months from the primary surgery. [29] A touch-up liposuction is generally adequate to aspirate any remaining fat and further improve the contours. [14],[33]

Surface irregularities

Post-liposuction surface irregularities or waviness could be due to: [25]

  • Too superficial or too much liposuction
  • Fibrosis with adhesions
  • Inappropriate compression garment or posture
  • Redundant skin.
As Illouz aptly put it-"It is not so much what is removed that is important, but what is left behind". [12]

Patients with poor skin elasticity should be forewarned about the risk for contour irregularities and suboptimal skin contraction. Similarly, pre-existing cellulite, indentations and scars should be documented properly. [13] Intraoperatively, use of micro-cannulae and careful use of the criss-cross technique of liposuction are recommended to prevent waviness. [12],[13],[14] Keeping the cannula port on the underside of the cannula away from the overlying skin at all times is extremely important. Noting and keeping the position of the thumb rest on the cannula handle in the superior position at all times should be made a reflex. Prolonged aspiration in one spot and excessive superficial liposuctioning should be avoided. [13] Although superficial liposuction permits excellent skin retraction, [31],[34] Illouz recommended leaving at least a 5 mm layer of fat under the skin and on the fascia to prevent surface irregularities. [25] More recently, Gasparotti's recommends removal of deep layer of fat as well as the subdermal layer of fat without damaging the dermis. [34],[35] An unskilled surgeon may remove too much fat leading to surface irregularities. Jackson reminds us that - 'defects on the table will be defects forever.' [35] Therefore, the liposuctioned areas must be carefully assessed after completion of liposuction using Toledo's method. [14] Any contour irregularities detected should be primarily dealt with adequately as far as possible. Correcting contour irregularities in the presence of post-surgical scarring and fibrosis is often very difficult if not impossible.

Post-operatively, careful monitoring of the use of compression garment is recommended. A well-fitting garment enhances skin retraction. [13] An ill-fitting garment especially associated with bad posture can also lead to surface irregularities. [12] Therefore, we advise our patients about the correct method of using the compression garment, to limit folds and creases in the garment and regularly check if the garment is worn properly.

Post-liposuction irregularities may be in the form of dimples, grooves, wrinkles or folds [Figure 7] and [Figure 8]. Surface dents due to excessive superficial liposuction persist on skin retraction and in the supine position. Dents due to fibrous adhesions to underlying muscle worsen on muscle contraction and dents due to skin redundancy may improve on supine position, but will definitely improve on skin retraction. [25] In our experience, 8.2% of patients complained of post-liposuction surface irregularities.
Figure 7: Example of surface irregularities - (a) Pre-operative and (b) post-operative (after liposuction with indentation due to improper use of compression garment-blue and red arrows)

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Figure 8: Another example of surface irregularities after abdominal liposuction-dent (blue arrow), deep groove (red arrow) due to improper use or ill-fitting compression garment in a case with pre-op skin laxity.

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Endermologie, external ultrasound or lymphatic drainage massages may assist in uniform removal of swelling and ensure smooth contours. [13] Some indentations may be improved with the 'liposhifting' technique. [28] A combination of touch-up liposuction and AFT may be required for correction of other contour deformities [12],[13],[14] [Figure 9]. Irregularities due to excessive fibrosis may require intralesional injections with 5-Flurouracil along with/without triamcinolone. Persistent cases may rarely require surgical removal of the fibrous mass along with AFT. [12]
Figure 9: (a) Indentation over left ribcage (red arrow) after abdominal liposuction and (b) improved appearance after autologous fat transfer (red arrow)

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Any pre-operative asymmetry should be pointed out to the patient and recorded adequately with measurements and photographs. [12] Accordingly more or less fat may have to be removed from one side to balance the two sides.

Intraoperatively a member of the surgical team maintains a map of the liposuction areas and notes the amount of lipoaspirate from each area. [14] This ensures symmetrical removal of fat from both sides and symmetrical contours. After completing liposuction, we routinely examine the areas visually as well as manually. We use the pinch test as well as the sweep test as described by Toledo and Mauad. [14] Asymmetry detected intraoperatively may be tackled by liposhifting, additional liposuction or re-injecting fat. [12]

According to Illouz, asymmetry that is detected post-operatively should be tackled after 6 months by similar techniques. [25] In our series, 2.7% cases complained of noticeable asymmetry [Figure 10].
Figure 10: Example of asymmetry after liposuction of thighs-asymmetry between the two trochanteric areas (red stars)

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Skin laxity

Skin in certain areas is especially prone to the development of redundancy or laxity after liposuction. This may be due to the amount of fat removed as well as lack of complete or optimum skin retraction. These areas include a large abdominal panniculus, bulky arms and medial thighs with lax skin [12] [Figure 11]. In our experience, we have also encountered skin laxity issues after liposuction in the trochanteric as well as suprapatellar region. Patients with poor skin elasticity, excessive musculofascial laxity and large fat deposits, who may ideally require skin excision surgeries such as a tummy tuck or thigh lift or arm lift, but do not want the long incisions associated with these procedures and opt for only liposuction should be clearly forewarned of these sequelae after liposuction. [13] A written informed consent should also mention this issue for medicolegal reasons. Patients with the possibility of residual skin laxity must also be informed that they would need to wear the compression garment for a longer period, beyond the usual 6 weeks up to 8-12 weeks to encourage/allow the maximum possible skin retraction to take place.
Figure 11: Example of residual skin laxity after abdominal liposuction - (a) Pre-operative (b) post-operative (red and blue arrows showing residual skin laxity) (c) after abdominoplasty

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Various authors have reported excellent skin retraction and tightening using superficial liposuction techniques. [31],[34],[36] According to these authors, liposuction in both superficial and deep layers of fat enables more effective removal of fat, effective skin retraction as well as improvement of cellulite. Gasparotti believed that in superficial liposculpture skin is an 'active structural dynamic contributor to the body contouring process' and not just a passive element. [34],[35] It has been suggested that the use of vertical tunnels in the extremities provides better skin retraction as compared to horizontal tunnels. [35] Similarly, use of micro-cannulae stimulates better skin retraction after liposuction. [27] Recent studies also seem to indicate that UAL may also provide for effective skin retraction. [37]

In our series, we have had 4.2% of patients complaining of skin laxity after liposuction. All these patients had poor skin elasticity and had been forewarned of this possibility. Residual skin laxity was noted over the abdomen and thighs in all these patients.

Patients who are concerned about this residual laxity should be asked to wait for at least 6 months to 1 year before considering any further surgery, so that the inherent skin elasticity is given its fullest chance to work. Procedures such as abdominoplasty, brachioplasty and thigh plasty may be offered to the patient for correcting this skin laxity after liposuction. [12] Quite often, the quantum of these procedures is significantly reduced following liposuction. For example, a patient who ideally required a full-fledged abdominoplasty due to a lax infraumbilical skin-fat apron and underwent only liposuction with suboptimal, but significant skin contraction may only require a mini-tummy tuck later. Similarly, a patient who needed a full-fledged arm-lift or thigh lift and opted for only liposuction, which resulted in suboptimal but significant skin contraction may only need surgery that involves incisions in the axilla and groin crease without the vertical long incision component. The advantages of this multi-staged approach can also be explained to patients prior to the 1 st procedure so that they fully understand their choices and decide accordingly.

Skin hyperpigmentation

Skin hyperpigmentation following liposuction may be due to several factors such as: [38]

  • Hemosiderin deposition from ecchymosis
  • Excessive pressure from compression garments
  • Friction and shear at the incision site
  • Sun exposure
  • Exogenous drugs e.g., intramuscular iron therapy, contraceptive pills, minocycline etc.
Therefore, post-operatively the compression garment should be checked regularly, effective sun screen must be used and unnecessary sun exposure should be avoided. [13] Hyperpigmentation of the liposuctioned area is also often noted after UAL. [39]

In our experience, we had 18.7% patients developing hyperpigmentation in the liposuctioned areas. A majority of these have been following thigh liposuction [Figure 12]. Consequently, we forewarn all our thigh liposuction patients that they will develop hyperpigmentation post-operatively. However, in all cases the hyperpigmentation usually disappears by the end of a year after liposuction.
Figure 12: (a) Before thigh liposuction and (b) hyperpigmentation on thighs especially inner thighs after liposuction

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Treatment of usually exposed areas consists of sun protection and twice daily application of hydroquinone cream over the affected area. [12]

Scar related problems

Fortunately significant scarring after liposuction is not frequent. The scar related problems may be: [12]

  • Poor placement of incisions leading to easily visible scars
  • Depressed scars due to over liposuctioning in the vicinity of the incision
  • Hyperpigmented scars due to skin bruising following repeated passes by the cannula. Use of micro-cannulae, adequate sized incisions and plastic port plugs will minimise this problem. Steroid or hydro-quinone creams may be needed to resolve the problem
  • Hypertrophic or keloidal scars-In our series, 1.3% of patients were developed hypertrophic scars. These were satisfactorily treated with a combination of silicone gel sheets or applications, intralesional steroid injections, pressure therapy or re-excision.
Skin necrosis

Patients who are chronic smokers and have not stopped smoking have a high incidence of skin necrosis after liposuction. [12] Skin necrosis is more likely to occur with the use of sharp cannulae and with excessive superficial liposuction especially by turning the openings towards the skin surface. These factors lead to significant damage to subdermal plexus of vessels leading to skin necrosis. Similarly, aggressive liposuction of the abdomen along with full abdominoplasty, large seromas or haematomas increase the risk of skin necrosis. [12]

Earlier reports indicated a higher incidence of skin necrosis with UAL. [17],[18] Primarily, this was due to the energy from ultrasonic probes causing burns especially if left at one place without movement for too long. It was also due to problems such as end-hitting and prolonged or intimate contact of ultrasound probes with the dermis. [40] However, more recent studies indicate that with more experience and application of fundamental principles, the risk of skin necrosis with UAL is now significantly lesser. [37],[41],[42],[43]

Once detected, treatment involves surgical debridement, antibiotics and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. [12] In early stages when skin erythema is noted- hyperbaric oxygen therapy along with intradermal injection of oxygen has been reported to be helpful. [44] In our series, skin necrosis was noted in 1% cases. In most cases, it was only superficial ischemia, which settled with minimal scarring [Figure 13]. One patient required skin grafting to cover the defect following debridement [Figure 14]. Another patient had secondary suturing after debridement. All other patients were adequately treated with minor debridement and wound healing occurred by secondary intention [Figure 15].
Figure 13: (a) Before liposuction of chest for correction of gynaecomastia, (b) superficial ischaemic changes on the right side after liposuction and (c) post-op after healing of the ischaemic areas

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Figure 14: Extensive skin necrosis following abdominal liposuction

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Figure 15: (a) Patch of skin necrosis on the left arm after liposuction, (b) healing by secondary intention leaving small depressed scar

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Neurological sequel

Hypoaesthesia is very common after liposuction, but sensations generally return to near normal by the end of 1 year. [12],[15] Chronic pain is rare and may be due to a neuroma or due to injury to underlying fascia or muscle. Multiple injections of local anaesthetic may be helpful. Unrelenting pain may require surgical release of scar with or without AFT. [12]

Long standing hyperaesthesia has been reported following UAL. This is due to damage to the phospholipids in the myelin sheath leading to depolarisation of the cutaneous sensory nerves. [12],[45]

Umbilical deviation

We have observed this unusual sequel in six patients following an abdominal liposuction. The umbilical deviation is not apparent on the operating table following liposuction. However, it manifests by the time patient comes for suture removal (7 th post-operative day). Although it improves to some extent over the subsequent months, it never returns to the midline spontaneously. Another interesting feature has been that the deviation is always to the right side of the abdomen [Figure 16].
Figure 16: (a) Pre-operative, (b) umbilical deviation to the right side after liposuction

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We have hypothesised that this phenomenon is due to the drag exerted by the closure of compression garment. The compression garments were designed with a zipper on the right side alone. The umbilical stalk which is relatively less supported due to the removal of adjacent fat easily tilts to the right side as the patient tightens the compression garment towards this side.

We have successfully overcome this problem by re-designing the compression garment with closure (hooks and zipper) on both sides. Furthermore, we apply additional padding over the umbilicus within the compression garment for a period of 7-10 days. This not only helps to stabilise the umbilical stalk during the early period of healing, but it also helps to push the navel into its 'valley'.

 » Systemic Complications Top

Significant blood loss

In our series, 2.5% of patients had a significant blood loss, which necessitated blood transfusion. According to Samdal et al., [19] during liposuction blood is lost through three pathways:

  • External blood loss-in the lipoaspirate
  • Internal blood loss-in the dead spaces
  • Blood loss in the drapes, sponges and dressings.
Reports have indicated that an average of 5-15 ml blood is lost per litre of lipoaspirate when super-wet or tumescent technique is used. [19],[46] The large volume of fluid along with even a small dose of adrenaline (1:1,000,000) is sufficient to minimise blood loss. [19],[47] According to Illouz, the adjective 'tumescent' has become so popular that many surgeons use it to describe wet (1:1) or super-wet (1:1.5) techniques. [25] Courtiss et al. estimated the internal blood loss to be equal to the external blood loss. [48] However, Samdal et al. believes that this estimation of internal blood loss may actually be an underestimation. [19]

General pre-operative and intraoperative measures to minimise blood loss have already been discussed. Recent studies indicate that blood loss using SAL, PAL and UAL are quite similar. [49],[50] Intraoperatively, if bleeding is not over 15% of blood volume then crystalloids are sufficient. These are infused as recommended [Table 2]. [47]
Table 2: Rule of thumb for IV infusion during liposuction surgery

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Patients with more than 15% of blood volume lost may require colloids such as dextran, albumin or blood to restore blood volume. [12] Low haemoglobin is not a criterion for blood transfusion. Instead, patient's clinical status is more important and if vital signs are stable conservative measures may be taken. [12]

According to Illouz, the amount of fat removed should not exceed 6-8% of patient's body weight. [25] Mangubat and Harbke indicates that patient weight, surgery time and supernatant volume are significant factors for predicting blood loss following liposuction. [51]

In our experience, patients who appear significantly pale by the evening following surgery will benefit from blood transfusion. We believe that blood loss in the third space which continues after surgery contributes to a further drop in haemoglobin. Post-operative dizziness and feeling faint may be due to dehydration, drug reaction or low haemoglobin. Patients with haemoglobin below 8 g% with symptoms should be given blood transfusions. [12]


Hypothermia is defined as core body temperature below 35° Centigrade. Hypothermia is associated with adverse cardiac events, increased surgical bleeding, infection, sepsis and delayed healing. [52],[53]

Warming the infiltration fluid to 37° Centigrade is generally recommended. [14] However, some believe that this may lead to increased vasodilatation and bleeding. [13] We do not use pre-warmed infiltration fluids and have not had any patient going into hypothermia. Use of hot air blankets or mattress peri-operatively is beneficial. [14] In some cases, we briefly raise the temperature in the operating room if the patient is complaining of shivering.

DVT or thromboembolism

Pre-disposing factors for Deep venous thrombosis (DVT) include-inherited hypercoagulable states, chronic smokers, surgery for more than 2 h, obesity, dehydration, advanced age (>60 years), patients with varicose veins and patients taking oral contraceptive pills. [13],[14] Therefore, patients should be instructed to stop smoking and contraceptive pills at least 2 weeks prior to surgery. Attempts should be made to minimise operation time. Liposuction should not be combined with other lengthy procedures. Adequate hydration must be ensured peri-operatively. The protocol should include the use of at least elastocrepe bandaging after leg elevation prior to surgery in all cases, which are likely to take at least 2 h, with reapplication of the bandages every 2 h until the patient is ambulant. Sequential compression stockings and anti-DVT pumps should be used whenever available.

Post-operatively, excessively tight compression garments should be avoided. Early post-operative mobilisation significantly reduces the risk for DVT. [12] Low molecular weight heparin e.g., Enoxaparin is indicated to prevent DVT in high risk cases as well as to treat DVT. [14]

In our series, we had one patient who was suspected to have developed DVT after liposuction. However, a Doppler study ruled out DVT and the patient was managed conservatively.

DVT is associated with pain at rest and limb oedema. Increased pain on dorsiflexion of foot (Homan's sign) and exquisite tenderness of calves on palpation are useful diagnostic criteria. DVT is managed by immobilisation, limb elevation, anti-coagulation with intravenous (IV) heparin or low molecular weight heparin therapy and in selected cases thrombolysis or inferior vena cava filter. [54]

One must have a very low threshold for detecting thromboembolism after liposuction. In a survey conducted to evaluate the incidence of fatal outcomes following liposuction, pulmonary thromboembolism was the number one killer (25%). [55] Any patient with shortness of breath or chest pain must be investigated thoroughly and treated aggressively.

Treatment consists of supportive treatments such as oxygen, analgesics and ventilatory support. Anticoagulation with low molecular weight heparin is the mainstay in management. Selected cases may require thrombolysis or inferior vena cava filter or pulmonary embolectomy. [54]

Visceral perforation

To date, 11 cases of visceral perforation during liposuction have been reported. [56] In another survey conducted to evaluate the incidence of fatal outcomes after liposuction, visceral perforation was responsible for 15% of fatal outcomes. [55] Bowel perforation during liposuction is potentially fatal and is associated with a very high mortality rate.

Patients who are obese, with old surgical scars on the abdomen, with divarication of recti and with abdominal wall hernias are at a greater risk for visceral perforation during liposuction. [13] Toledo and Mauad recommends hyperextending the abdomen during liposuction to prevent inadvertent visceral penetration of the cannula. [14] At the same time, the tip of the cannula must always be observed or felt with the non-dominant hand during surgery. Proper training and meticulous post-operative monitoring of patient are essential. Patients with severe pain after abdominal liposuction should be assessed carefully to rule out visceral perforation. [55]

Plain X-ray of the abdomen in upright position, computed tomography scan or laparoscopy may be used to confirm the diagnosis. Emergency exploration of the abdomen must be undertaken to repair the visceral perforation/s.

Severe chest pain and dyspnoea may indicate perforation into the chest. Pressure over the rib cage by the non-dominant hand during liposuction minimises the risk for inadvertent chest penetration. A chest X-ray shows pneumothorax. Insertion of a chest tube relieves dyspnoea. [12]

We have not experienced any visceral perforation in our series of 600 cases.

Fulminant infection

Cases of necrotising fasciitis after liposuction without visceral perforation have been reported. [57],[58] The risk factors for developing necrotising fasciitis after liposuction include-gastro-intestinal malignancy, IV drug abuse, age more than 50 years, diabetes mellitus, immunosuppressed state, alcohol abuse, peripheral vascular disease and malnutrition. [59]

Clinically, erythema and oedema is seen over the affected area. This rapidly progresses to cyanosis, blister formation and gangrene. The gangrene is greater at the fascial level. Treatment consists of aggressive debridement of gangrenous tissues, antibiotics and supportive therapy. [13]

Toxic shock syndrome is caused by exotoxins secreted by Staphylococcus aureus and group A Streptococcus. [60] Treatment consists of aggressive surgical debridement, supportive care, antibiotics, immunoglobulins and anti-coagulant therapy for disseminated intra-vascular coagulation. [12]

In our series, we have not had a single case of fulminant infection following liposuction.

Fat embolism syndrome

The overall mortality of fat embolism syndrome (F.E.S after liposuction is approximately 10-15%. [61] The pathogenesis of the syndrome is due to:

  • Mechanical theory-fat droplets from liposuction areas enter into veins and travel to the lungs
  • Biochemical theory-free fatty acids cause pulmonary endothelial damage, inactivate lung surfactant and increase vascular permeability leading to interstitial and alveolar haemorrhage, oedema and chemical pneumonitis. This pathological process leads to acute respiratory distress syndrome, which manifests clinically in 12-24 h.
In cases of mega-liposuction, it is therefore necessary to be aware of this dreaded complication and to have a high index of suspicion based on the patient's symptoms. Specific criteria and guidelines have been described for diagnosis of FES [62] [Table 3].
Table 3: Criteria for diagnosis of F.E.S

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Brocho-alveolar lavage is recommended for rapid and specific diagnosis of FES. [61]

Prevention of FES after liposuction should include-careful selection of patients, reduction of surgery time, limiting liposuction volume, careful monitoring of patients post-operatively and ensuring adequate hydration peri-operatively. Adequate hydration ensures clearance of fat globules from the circulation. [61],[62]

Treatment consists of general supportive measures, maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance, administration of oxygen and endotracheal intubation with a mechanical ventilator support when required. [63] High doses of methyl-prednisolone are also considered beneficial. [12],[64]

Acute pulmonary oedema

Changes of acute pulmonary oedema have been reported in the literature, especially in cases of mega-liposuction. The pathophysiology which leads to this complication is large volumes of lipo-infiltration along with excess IV fluid infusion during the procedure. Ordinarily, part of the IV fluid infused extravasates into the third space. However, the presence of large volumes of lipo-infiltration in this third space does not allow this diffusion to occur. As a result, this excess fluid can extravasate into the pulmonary system leading to pulmonary oedema. Avoidance of this pathological process is possible by titrating the amount of IV fluid infusion and by doing segmental lipo-infiltration followed by liposuction in the same area. [12]

 » Dissatisfied Patient Top

These are patients who will complain despite a successful liposuction session. In our experience, it is imperative to try to identify such patients pre-operatively so that we may discourage them from surgery. Accordingly patients who demand guarantees before surgery, who expect liposuction to solve other professional, social and emotional problems in their lives, who are obsessed with their bodies and those who are unwilling to improve their unhealthy life-styles should be considered as potentially problem patients and discouraged from liposuction.

In our series, out of the 8.2% patients who rated their liposuction result as not good or poor; 32.7% patients were 'dissatisfied' in spite of what we honestly considered as good results. However, most of these patients were in the initial half of the duration of our series.

Good patient selection is vital to avoid performing liposuction on a patient with unrealistic expectations. A detailed consultation is mandatory to discuss the patient's requirements and expectations as well as to explain the potential risks and benefits of liposuction. All patients must be explained that further refinements may be required. [13] Patients with body dysmorphic disorder should be discouraged from surgery as they perceive a serious problem when there is no significant problem.

Pre- and post-operative records-weight, measurements and photographs are of utmost importance as very often patients tend to forget what they looked like before surgery. [14] A detailed, valid and informed consent for surgery and anaesthesia must be obtained.

Liposuction must be approached as a body contouring procedure and not as a weight loss technique. Patients must be informed that continued adherence to a sensible diet and a regular exercise regime will further improve the results of liposuction. Patients must be made to understand that liposuction is not the end of their body contouring program, but only a fresh beginning. Patients should be encouraged to view liposuction as a kick-start mechanism followed by life-style improvements to maintain the benefits of liposuction. [13]

 » Summary Top

With the acceptance of aesthetic surgery increasing, demand for body contouring surgery is increasing exponentially. A successful outcome is gratifying as well as beneficial for the reputation of both-the operating surgeon as well as the procedure per se a 3D understanding of the architecture of body fat is imperative for successful body contouring with liposuction. As more and more liposuctions are being performed, it is highly likely that more and more unfavourable outcomes and sequelae will be encountered. Proper surgical training of plastic surgeons in the performance of liposuctions is mandatory in minimising these problems.

Although experience is an excellent teacher, proper training is an obligatory foundation. Certain general principles to ensure a successful liposuction surgery and a happy patient should be instilled at the training stage. These include:

  • Proper patient selection-ensure realistic expectations
  • Detailed examination-assessment of fat deposits differentiates between true and false bulges, assess skin laxity and tone, assess skin thickness and assess musculofascial laxity
  • Frank discussion with patients about other options, post-operative course and potential outcomes of the procedure. False assurances to lure patients are not justified
  • Valid informed consent prior to surgery must be obtained
  • Pre-operative records-weight, measurements and photographs must be maintained
  • Topographic markings are done in the upright position
  • Proper liposuction technique must be the used-proper position, super-wet technique, no more than 8% of body weight to be liposuctioned, minimise blood loss, minimise surgery time, use microcannulae, gentle criss-cross tunnelling, avoid 'wind-shield wiper' like movements [65] and avoid liposuctioning too close to the dermis and muscle
  • Adequate sterilisation of instruments must be ensured
  • Peri-operative antibiotics are recommended as per hospital or doctor's protocols
  • Measures to prevent DVT must be employed routinely
  • Adequate monitoring of patients peri-operatively is imperative to detect early post-operative sequelae
  • Ensure adequate hydration and ensure adequate urine output peri-operatively
  • A well-fitting compression garment should be sincerely worn post-operatively for the entire prescribed period
  • Early mobilisation helps prevent DVT as well as improves sense of well-being in patients
  • Regular follow-ups are mandatory to monitor the course of post-operative recovery
  • Educating patients about post-operative life-style modifications ensures that the results of liposuction will be permanent.
During the course of plastic surgery practice, some unfavourable outcomes are inevitable. An honest disclosure to patients as soon as the problem is detected is essential. Similarly, fearlessly discussing the measures necessary to remedy those problems and reassurance of the surgeon 'there to take care' helps restore the patient's faith in their surgeon. Plastic surgeons relatively new in practice, should not hesitate to involve a more experienced plastic surgeon in the management of such unfavourable outcomes.

Thus proper training, skilful performance of liposuction and diligent management of any unfavourable outcomes of the procedure will be reflected in the patient satisfaction rates.

 » References Top

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6], [Figure 7], [Figure 8], [Figure 9], [Figure 10], [Figure 11], [Figure 12], [Figure 13], [Figure 14], [Figure 15], [Figure 16]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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