Introduction 

Liposuction is a type of cosmetic surgery used to remove unwanted body fat. The operation is also known as liposculpture or suction-assisted lipectomy.

Liposuction is carried out on areas of the body where deposits of fat tend to collect, such as the buttocks, hips, thighs and tummy. The procedure is generally used to improve appearance rather than treat health conditions.

Liposuction permanently removes fat cells and can alter body shape, although the results may not last if you put on weight after the procedure.

Liposuction is not a treatment for obesity, and it will not remove cellulite or stretch marks.

Conditions that can be treated with liposuction include lymphoedema (where fluid accumulates in body tissue) and gynaecomastia (where fatty swellings develop under a man's nipples). 

Read more about why liposuction is used.

Considering liposuction

Having any kind of cosmetic surgery, including liposuction, is a major decision. It can be expensive, time consuming and the results can't be guaranteed.

It's important to ask yourself why you want to have cosmetic surgery. It's a good idea to discuss your plans and other possible options with your GP before going ahead with treatment. Liposuction is usually only recommended if you have tried changing your lifestyle but this has not helped.

If you decide to have liposuction, be absolutely sure about your reasons for wanting to have it.

Read more about whether cosmetic surgery is right for you.

Choosing a surgeon

If you decide to have liposuction, it's important that the surgeon and other healthcare professionals carrying out the procedure are fully qualified and experienced.

You should discuss the procedure in detail with your surgeon. Ask as many questions as you need to so that you're fully aware of what the procedure involves, how it will be carried out, what the results will be and whether there will be any after effects.

Read more about choosing a cosmetic surgeon and qualifications to look for in a cosmetic surgeon.

How liposuction is performed

Before having a liposuction operation, your surgeon should discuss the procedure with you to decide which technique they will use to prepare the area where fat is to be removed.

Possible preparation techniques include injecting the area with a solution containing anaesthetic and medication, and breaking up the fat cells using high-frequency vibrations.

Once the area is prepared, a small cut is made. A suction tube attached to a specialised vacuum machine is then inserted. Several cuts may be made if there is a large area being treated.

Liposuction is usually carried out under general anaesthetic, although local anaesthetic or epidural anaesthetic in some cases.

Read more information on how liposuction is performed.

Risks and recovery

After the operation, the treated area will be bandaged and stitched, and you may need to wear elastic compression clothing to reduce swelling. If general anaesthetic is used you may need to stay overnight in hospital.

It usually takes about two weeks to make a full recovery, but it can take up to six months to see noticeable results, as the treated area may take time to settle down.

Like all types of surgery, liposuction carries a number of risks. These include bruising, infection, scarring and numbness.

Read more about recovering from liposuction and the risks of liposuction.

Liposuction on the NHS

As liposuction is usually used to improve your appearance rather than your health, it is not normally available on the NHS. It may be available if used as part of reconstructive surgery or to treat certain conditions such as lymphoedema.

To receive cosmetic surgery from the NHS, you will normally need a referral from your GP. You will have to have a consultation with a plastic surgeon and an assessment by a psychiatrist or psychologist. They will decide whether there is enough social, psychological or physical benefit to justify surgery.

Read more about the availability of cosmetic surgery.

Cosmetic surgery

Things to consider about cosmetic surgery, plus questions to ask your surgeon, what to expect, and the risks of surgery

Page last reviewed: 05/07/2013

Next review due: 05/07/2015