The risks of liposuction

Liposuction is the most common cosmetic surgery in the world.

Some people think of it as a weight-loss tool, but most cosmetic surgeons use it for body contouring, by reducing fat deposits in specific localized areas, like parts of the abdomen, thighs, back, arms, calves, upper neck and lower face, chest, and buttocks.

From my experience as a Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I believe that many people are unaware of the serious risks of liposuction.

Neurologic/nerve problems

The loss of sensation or touch, called hypoesthesia, is very common after liposuction. For most patients, sensations return to near-normal within a year.

If there is chronic pain, though, the plastic surgeon may have damaged a nerve (neuroma), muscle, or tissue. If the pain does not go away, a return to surgery may be necessary to remove scar tissue. Sometimes, unfortunately, the damage is permanent, though.

Significant blood loss

Some studies have shown that around 2.5% of liposuctions have significant enough blood loss to require a transfusion. Experts recommend that the amount of fat removed should not be more than 6-8% of the patient’s total body weight, because weight, surgery time, and volume removed are big factors influencing the amount of blood loss.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT or thromboembolism)

A potentially-deadly complication that can occur with liposuction is formation of clots in the deep veins of the legs, called deep vein thrombosis. When these clots dislodge, they can travel to the lungs and cause respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.

Published studies have shown that these factors put patients at a higher risk for developing DVT: genetic blood conditions (hypercoagulable, or the tendency to form too many blood clots), chronic smokers, surgery lasting longer than two hours, obesity, dehydration, being 60 years or older, varicose veins, and patients taking oral contraceptive pills.

Experts recommend use of sequential compression stockings, anti-DVT pumps, and low molecular weight heparin in patients with a higher-risk of DVT formation. Research also supports that all patients should get out of bed and walk around as soon as possible after surgery—this helps prevent DVT complications.


Edema, or swelling, is expected after liposuction from the physical trauma of the procedure itself. Most cosmetic surgeons recommend using a compression garment for four to six weeks to control it.

Swelling becomes apparent within a day or two and will increase until around the two-week mark. Usually by three months after the liposuction procedure, tissues return to normal.

If the surgeon’s technique caused excessive trauma to the tissues during the procedure, there can be edema, pain, and discomfort from an internal burn-like injury. When this occurs, it will typically take a longer time to resolve and can leave increased scarring, fibrosis, and skin contour irregularities.


Many patients are concerned when, after a liposuction procedure, typically-yellow serous fluid accumulates in a particular area—most commonly in the outer and back thighs and lower abdomen. After pubic fat liposuction procedures, people can become understandably alarmed when the fluid collects in the scrotum or labia. This normally resolved over a two-week period,

This can be caused by the cosmetic surgeon being overly aggressive in suctioning a single area, which damages the tissue of lymphatics. It can also happen, though, if the patient is using a poorly-fit compression garment or if the compression garment is taken on and off repeatedly.


Infection after liposuction is a known complication, which means sometimes it is unavoidable.

Patients with uncontrolled or poorly-controlled diabetes are at a particularly high risk. For diabetic patients, it is important to have good sugar/glycemic control before, during, and after the liposuction procedure. Smokers also have an increased risk and should stop smoking during the same time period.

On other occasions, an infection can develop because of substandard care. Basic surgical techniques including hand washing, sterile operating room conditions, and proper skin preparation and handling are essential. In addition, all liposuction equipment and supplies must be thoroughly cleaned to remove blood and tissue from prior patients, before they are sterilized for reuse. When this is not done, it can result in serious atypical mycobacterial infections.


When the surgeon removed too much fat by liposuction, it is referred to as over-correction and leaves an undesirable contour line. This happens most frequently in the thighs and buttocks.


When the surgeon does not remove enough fat, it is called under-correction. This happens most commonly in the arms, flanks, lower abdomen, hips, and above the knees.

We are here to help

If you or someone you care for has been seriously injured from a liposuction or other cosmetic surgery procedure, call 281-580-8800, for a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm.

Robert Painter
Article by

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.