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When diet and exercise don’t work, is liposuction an option?

» How it’s done

» What recovery is like

» Final results

Does liposuction lower blood pressure?

Or blood cholesterol? Or risk of heart attack and stroke? In a word, no. In fact, liposuction has no proven health benefits.

The bottom line: If you want to help lower your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke, you’ll have to do it the hard way—through proper nutrition and regular physical activity.

Losing fat cells along with bulges

Liposuction does something dieting will never do. It doesn’t just shrink fat cells—it eliminates them! Sounds great, but here’s the downside: If you put on weight after the procedure, you might find fat accumulating in surprising places, like your inner knees and around your ankles—more reason to reach a stable weight before you opt for liposuction.

Cut the fat. It’s advice some women take quite literally, especially when diet and exercise don’t bring the longed-for result—a slim, toned body.

For those plagued by stubborn pockets of fat, liposuction can seem pretty enticing. After all, what could be easier than a procedure that literally vacuums fat away from thighs, buttocks, breasts and bellies?

The problem is, liposuction is not for everyone. The ideal candidate is in excellent health with good skin tone, younger than 50 and able to pay for the procedure, which is rarely covered by health insurance.

In addition, liposuction should not be thought of as the answer to your weight-loss prayers. Because subsequent weight fluctuations will affect the procedure’s outcome, you should have reached and maintained a stable weight before considering liposuction. Your best bet: Reserve liposuction for treating localized areas of excess fat and skin.

How it’s done

Liposuction is usually performed in the hospital on an outpatient basis. You’ll receive general or local anesthesia, depending on the size of the area being treated. Once the anesthesia has taken effect, the surgeon will make a small incision near the fat deposit. He or she will choose an inconspicuous spot—a natural fold of skin, for example—where the scar will be easily hidden.

A strawlike instrument called a cannula will be inserted through the incision, and the excess fat will be suctioned out until the desired effect is achieved. In a newer technique called tumescent liposuction, an anesthetic liquid is injected into the area, causing it to swell. This allows the cannula to glide more smoothly beneath the skin. The advantage of the newer procedure is less blood loss, reduced pain and swelling and speedier recovery.

What recovery is like

Expect a lot of bruising, swelling and tenderness. For maximum comfort, you may need to wear a support garment for several weeks or even months. Depending on the extent of the procedure, your doctor may advise you to restrict strenuous activities. You should be ready to resume your normal activities in three or four weeks.

Final results

After the swelling goes down, your skin recontours itself to the new shape. If your skin is not as elastic as it once was, you may need a follow-up procedure called a “tuck” to eliminate loose skin. While you may imagine liposuction leaving you with smooth, taut lines, be prepared for some bumps, ridges and dimples after the swelling subsides.

As with any surgical procedure, liposuction should not be taken lightly. At the very least, you should expect some scarring—a factor if you’re having work done on hard-to-hide spots like upper arms. Finally, to avoid unnecessary risks, make sure your surgeon is qualified to perform the procedure.

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