Liposuction Deaths

small logo
What is liposuction?

Liposuction, also known as suction lipectomy, is a surgical procedure for removal of fats from under the skin through small incisions using a surgical suction equipment. This was first introduced about 18 years ago and performed by plastic surgeons.

Is liposuction a cure for obesity?

No, liposuction is not a treatment, much less a cure, for obesity. Most, if not all, plastic surgeons consider obesity as a contraindication for liposuction. The treatment for obesity is mainly reduction diet and daily exercises under a programmed regimen.

Is liposuction used for breast reduction?

No, liposuction is not used for breast reduction or removal of lipomas (benign fatty tumors) under the skin. Reduction mammoplasty for aesthetic reason is the surgical procedure for reducing the size of breasts which are too large, and surgical excision is the procedure for removing lipomas.

What is liposuction for?

Liposuction is being used to contour the chin, neck, cheeks, breasts, upper arms, abdomen, buttocks, hips, thighs, knees, calves and ankles. Because of patient expectation, some have been disappointed in spite of good surgical results. Plastic surgeons report that most patients like how they look afterwards.

Will liposuction remove cellulite?

No, liposuction will not remove cellulite (dimpled skin). Daily exercises could help improve the looks of the areas involved by firming the muscles underneath.

What is tummy tuck?

Tummy tuck is a surgical alternative to liposuction of the abdominal fats. However, if the patient does not diet and exercise, the abdominal fats will return and the same bulges will reappear. The same thing happens to liposuction elsewhere in the body. There is no substitute to dieting and exercise in caring for our body.

How is liposuction done?

The procedure is done with or without ultrasound assistance. The patient is given local anesthetic (or general, if the procedure is extensive) and small skin incisions are made where small suction instruments are inserted through and under the skin into the fat pockets. The instrument is moved around to break up the fats and fatty tissues are suctioned out.

Is hospital stay required for this procedure?

It depends on how extensive the procedure is. If it is not, then it can be done as an outpatient surgery.

How about convalescence?

The areas involved might appear larger after liposuction because of the swelling and some bleeding underneath. A tight stocking, girdle, or elastic dressing is used for 2-3 weeks over the treated area to prevent further bleeding and swelling. There will be bruising, numbness and pain post-operatively. Stitches are removed in 5-10 days. Some residual numbness and/or pains may persist for weeks. Pain medications and antibiotics may be prescribed. Walking is encouraged but not strenuous activities.

Is the benefit lasting?

The improvement is not permanent. Fat cells normally grow. Some claim that the number of fats cells are reduced with liposuction, but others maintain the fat cells grow larger. Anyway, if the patient does not diet and exercise daily, he/she will obviously have the same original problem. Some patients undergo repeated liposuctions. And because the procedure costs a lot of money, fat cells are not the only material sucked out of the patient.

What are the patient criteria for liposuction?

Liposuction candidates must meet the following minimum criteria: good physical and medical health, normal weight, psychologically healthy, bothered by pockets of fats that remain after dieting and exercise program. And of course, they must have enough money to pay for the procedure, which may need to be done repeatedly as time passes by.

What are the risks and possible complications?

Reaction to medications, problem breathing during the procedure, bleeding, infection, thrombus (blood clots), pulmonary embolus (clots to the lungs), fat embolus (pieces of fats go to the blood stream and then to other vital organs), which could be fatal.

Have there been deaths from liposuction?

Yes. A study which was published in the recent issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery showed a death rate of 20 in every 100,000 patients who underwent the procedure between 1994 and 1998. This is higher than death rate from motor vehicle accidents in the United States. In the 1970s, the death rate was about 8 times more. But even the current death rate is considered too high and unacceptable, considering the patients are healthy and well to begin with, and the procedure is only cosmetic. In a census survey among 1200 plastic surgeons who did liposuction, more than 900 responded, giving a total death count of 130. While others claim the figure not to be that dismal, Rudolph H. de Jong, M.D. of the Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia stated that "the death rate has actually gone up in the past 13 years." He also said that one of the reasons was that the public trivialize liposuction, which is really a serious surgical procedure, with real risk and possible complications. I personally have heard of unfortunate stories of healthy young and middle-aged ladies dying from fat embolism right in the operating rooms during liposuction.

How much are we willing to pay for "better looks"?

Cosmetic surgery has mesmerized our bulging, sagging, wrinkling, aging population as a crutch while we search for the fountain of youth. And plastic surgeons today can really do amazing feats with one's looks, in the area of noselifts, facelifts, etc. How temporary the good effects are is another story. But liposuction is entirely a different story. To me, the procedure is unphysiologic, useless and not safe enough, to say the least. It is against our body physiology, because it is natural to develop more fats when we eat more calories than we expend with our physical activities. Therefore, it is only common sense to go on a diet and do daily exercises when we start to gain weight and fatty bulges develop in our face, neck, abdomen or arms or legs. Or even better yet, to diet and exercise before these bulges occur, instead of allowing them to form and then resort to a surgical procedure to remove them. Suctioning the fatty tissues under our skin is not the solution, because if we resume eating more calories than we burn, the fatty bulges will recur to deform us again. Shall we then have liposuction every two months or so? And more seriously, are we willing to risk, or even lose, our life with liposuction just to look a little less fatty, or prettier?

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.