Tumescent Liposuction vs. Traditional Liposuction Surgery

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Jill Daniels, Freelance Medical Writer

Jill Daniels is a freelance health writer based in New York City. She spent several years writing for WebMD, including their Weight Loss Clinic and Fertility Center programs. Jill has also written/reported for publications including InStyle, People and Women's Own. She received a degree in journalism for Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


May 16 2008

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You likely already know that liposuction surgery can help eliminate unwanted pockets of fat and improve the contours of your body, but how much do you know about the different liposuction options available? Some current liposuction techniques include the dry technique, the wet technique, the tumescent technique, ultrasound-assisted liposuction, and powered liposuction. In the past, liposuction surgery was associated with a great deal of blood loss and a significant amount of pain – but that is not the case anymore.

How Tumescent Liposuction is Different

Liposuction as a general rule involves inserting thin tubes (cannulae) through tiny incisions in your skin and suctioning fat through the tubes as the doctor moves them around under your skin. Tumescent liposuction incorporates injecting a solution into your fatty areas, which makes it easier to remove the fat. The injected solution is composed of a saline solution, a mild painkiller called lidocaine that helps keep you more comfortable during and after the procedure, and epinephrine, a drug that temporarily contracts your blood vessels and ultimately helps stem blood loss from the procedure.
All liposuction techniques have some common side effects associated with them, such as:

  • Irritation and minor scarring surrounding the incision site
  • Loose or rippling skin immediately following the procedure (unless it's a large amount of skin, it typically tightens and retracts in a few months)
  • Temporary swelling, bruising, and numbness in and around the area that was treated 

Benefits of Tumescent Liposuction Technique

However, compared to older traditional liposuction techniques, tumescent liposuction results in:

  • Less swelling
  • Less bleeding
  • Less bruising
  • Less soreness
  • Quicker recovery time

Because of the large volume of anesthetic solution injected with the tumescent liposuction technique it can be performed using local anesthesia, which eliminates some risks associated with general anesthesia (the kind that puts you to sleep – and is necessary with traditional liposuction).

Since its inception, tumescent liposuction has been considered to have an excellent safety profile. It's also considered to be the most effective liposuction technique with the fastest recovery time.

Liposuction Risks

Liposuction surgery is usually quite safe as long as it is performed by an experienced doctor in a properly equipped facility. Treating a very large area or several areas at a time may increase the risk of complications during or after your liposuction procedure. As previously mentioned, however, tumescent liposuction is considered the safest technique to use.

Any type of liposuction carries the risks of contour irregularities, numbness, infection, fat clots or blood clots. Build up of fluid in the lungs (called pulmonary edema) is one rare complication that could occur with tumescent liposuction because of the large volume of fluid that may be injected into the body. Toxic reaction to the solution used in tumescent liposuction is another rare but possible risk.
If you have severe heart problems, blood-clotting disorders, or if you are pregnant, liposuction is not recommended.

Who Is a Good Candidate for Liposuction

Liposuction is not a beneficial solution for everyone. It's not a weight loss tool and it's not a substitute for diet and exercise. A good candidate for liposuction should:

  • Have realistic expectations concerning what liposuction can and can not accomplish
  • Be at a stable weight
  • Have firm, elastic skin
  • Be in good overall health
  • Have pockets of fat that are resistant to diet and exercise

What to Expect Following Your Tumescent Liposuction Surgery

If you have opted for tumescent liposuction, fluid may drain from the incision sites for a few days. Initial results from your liposuction may be visible in 2 to 4 weeks, after the bruising and swelling subsides a bit. However, final results may take 2 to 6 months to become fully apparent. An elastic support garment should typically be worn for a few weeks following the surgery.

As soon as the liposuction procedure is completed and after the effects of anesthesia have worn off, you should be able to get up and move around. You can return to your typical activities as soon as you feel comfortable, which may take several days or weeks, depending on the scale of your surgery. Most people can return to work within a few days. Of course the length of your recovery time will vary according to your particular body and extensiveness of the liposuction procedure.

What Determines Whether the Tumescent Liposuction Technique Is Right for You?

There is no such thing as a one-technique-fits-all approach to liposuction. Variables such as your body mass index, your overall health, the amount of fat that needs to be removed, the number of sites you intend to treat and whether you plan to have any other plastic surgery procedures during the same session will help determine which type of liposuction technique should be used. The best thing to do is talk to your doctor. Together you should be able to figure out the best option for you.