Non-surgical fat-reduction techniques are growing in popularity. Although there are a number of treatment options available, most use one of two approaches: ultrasound and cold energy (also called cryolipolysis). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently approves of a variety of devices utilizing these treatment methods. Both methods are considered very safe overall but may be associated with some minor side effects.

Risks From Non-Surgical Fat-Reduction Techniques

It is important to consider all risks and possible complications from non-surgical fat-reduction before proceeding with any treatment.

CoolSculpting is a familiar version of the cryolipolysis technique. The targeted cooling process destroys fat cells underneath the skin while protecting skin and nerves. A product of the Zeltiq company, information on the CoolSculpting website claims no knives, suction hoses or needles are used in the treatment and the non-surgical fat-reduction technique leaves no scarring or permanent skin changes.

“Coolsculpting works on the upper and lower abdomen and waist,” says Cameron Rokhsar, MD, of New York Cosmetic Skin & Laser Surgery Center. The device may also be used on the arms if there’s enough fat to properly fit between the two cooling panels used during treatment, says Dr. Rokhsar.

Side effects sometimes associated with cryolipolysis include redness, bruising, swelling, tenderness to the touch, cramping, itching, tingling and numbness at the treatment site. Most symptoms quickly fade, but some patients experience numbness that persists for several weeks following treatment.

The FDA has deemed CoolSculpting to be both safe and effective, but according to Rokhsar, there is a rare risk of complication. “With CoolSculpting, it’s possible a divot can occur if the device is applied incorrectly,” he explains.

Another non-invasive body contouring technique, LipoSonix, utilizes ultrasound technology to remove excess fat from the stomach, thighs, waist, back, hips and buttocks.

The procedure, which takes about an hour to perform, uses high-intensity ultrasound waves. During treatment, some patients experience mild discomfort, cold, tingling or warmth. Following Liposonix, there may be some bruising, redness, swelling and discomfort at the treatment site. These side effects are typically mild.

Liposonix is not recommended for those with a history of bleeding disorders, those taking a blood-thinning medication, individuals who have previously had surgery at the treatment site or who have an implanted medical device, such as a pacemaker. Women who are pregnant should postpone Liposonix treatment.

“Since ultrasound device uses heat, there is a potential for burns, but that is very rare,” says Rohksar.

It’s important that injury occurs to only small volumes of fat, since according to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery there is a risk of scarring if too much fat is damaged in a single area.

Avoiding Risks and Complications of Non-Surgical Fat-Reduction Treatments

With both treatment methods, there is a risk that some individuals may not be satisfied with the end results. Non-surgical fat-reduction techniques are recommended for patients who require minimal changes in appearance and who have realistic treatment expectations.

It is also recommended that those interested in pursuing any non-surgical fat removal treatments seek a qualified medical professional who has been properly trained in the process. A basic physical examination is also suggested to ensure there are no medical issues that could lead to treatment complications.