Some liposuction risks are associated with improper technique on the part of the surgeon. Others are most likely to happen in patients who have specific risk factors such as a history of health problems or smoking. Not all side effects of liposuction can be predicted or avoided.

General Anesthesia

There are a number of potential liposuction complications that can arise from the use of anesthetics. General anesthesia used for extensive lipo procedures is known to cause a life-threatening allergic reaction in a small number of patients. Older patients and those with significant health problems may also be at risk for rare complications such as lung infection, heart attack, or stroke. Other rare hazards associated with general anesthesia include brain damage from lack of oxygen and pneumonia from vomit that is accidentally breathed into the lungs.

What about Local Anesthetics?

There are several known liposuction risks associated with the local anesthetic used (Lidocaine). This drug can cause problems if:

  • The dose is miscalculated and too much is given
  • The liquid anesthetic is injected too quickly
  • The Lidocaine is absorbed into the blood stream too fast
  • Insufficient anesthetic is administered (leading to pain during the operation)
  • Toxicity occurs from an interaction between Lidocaine and other medications
  • The needle used to inject the anesthetic causes internal injury

The oral sedatives often used in conjunction with local anesthetics during liposuction can cause nausea and vomiting.

Liposuction Risks During Surgery

  • In rare cases, the metal tube (cannula) used to break up and remove fatty tissue can puncture the internal organs. This is most likely to happen when the surgeon is inexperienced.
  • There is also a risk of excessive bleeding. Patients who are taking medications that interfere with blood coagulation are at the greatest risk for this problem.
  • When large volumes of fluid are injected into and then drained from the body, this can place strain on the kidneys and heart. This liposuction complication is most common when a patient is having too much fat removed in a single operation.
  • Ultrasound and laser assisted liposuction techniques have the potential to cause burns to the skin and underlying tissues.
  • The administration of IV fluids during liposuction may also increase the risk of fluid accumulation in the lungs (pulmonary edema).
  • In very rare cases, a blood clot or a piece of fatty tissue may travel into the lungs, causing a fatal pulmonary embolism.

In general, liposuction risks go up substantially when other cosmetic surgeries are performed at the same time. The whole body is placed under greater strain and must recover from several traumas at once.

Liposuction Complications During Healing

Most side effects of liposuction surgery are manageable and not a threat to life or health. Typical after-effects that subside with time include:

  • Discomfort
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Faintness or lightheadedness
  • Scars from where the cannula was inserted

Less common but more serious problems include fluid accumulation under the skin (seroma), tissue death (necrosis) and wound infection. These liposuction complications require follow-up care and may lead to more surgery. Some patients experience long term or permanent changes in skin sensation from damaged nerve endings.

Liposuction Risks Don’t Stop after Recovery

There is always a risk that the patient will not be satisfied with the results of liposuction. They may feel that the amount of fat reduction is inadequate compared to what they expected. Or, they might perceive that other body parts appear fatter in comparison to the treated area. Some patients also have issues with dimpling or other skin irregularities. Problems with skin contour are more likely when large amounts of fat are removed and in patients who have poor skin elasticity.