Cosmo VS Liposuction – Reporting on the health implications
By: Bonnie Estridge
Liposuction is supposed to be the answer to all the excess fat, which neither diet, prayers nor exercise somehow shift. Thousands of women every year are happily paying between 2,000 and 4,000 to have the offending matter, quite literally sucked out of them.
Most people are happy with the results – thrilled to have the curves and angels they crave. But there are worries that rising demand for treatment is causing some women to forget a simple fact: Liposuction is still surgery and, when it goes wrong, can have tragic consequences. Critics also claim that not enough is being done to regulate the doctors and surgeons who perform liposuction.
In the US, where it is now the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure, there are an alarming 20 deaths per 100,000 operations. This grim statistic means that you are more likely to die having fat removed than in a road accident.
Last year, 15,000 people in Britain had the operation, making it second only to breast surgery in popularity. And the numbers are growing. Transform Medical Group, a large cosmetic surgery chain, says that liposuction now makes up to 20 percent of its work, amounting to 1,100 operations last year alone.
The procedure which first appeared in the 1960s to slim down thighs, buttocks and stomachs, is spreading over the body. Now double chins and even fat around the knees can be taken away by an expert hand.
When we asked if you, the Cosmo readers, would consider surgery, 47 percent of those who responded said yes, and it’s not hard to see why. Liposuction offers the stuff of dreams. What could be more incredible than waking up from an operation with fewer fat cells?
However, the statistics from the US and the growing popularity of the procedure here make this the time to ask a straight question: is it safe?
The Dangers vs The Benefits
Surgeons say that liposuction can give fantastic results, particularly for people who have pockets of fat, such as ‘saddle-bags’ at the tops of the legs and thighs, or a pot belly. Both are often resistant to exercise and dieting. Unfortunately, not all liposuction operations are successful.
Harley Street cosmetic surgeon Jan Stanek says that many people make the mistake of assuming that liposuction is a simple, gentle procedure. Quite the reverse is true.
“It is complicated and involves absolute understanding on the part of the surgeon. It’s not simply a question of inserting a syringe and sucking out the fat,” he explains.
“If too much fat is removed, this may lead to a loss of body fluid that can lead to kidney failure,” he says. Most surgeons recommend that no more than three-and-a half liters of fat should be taken at a time. But new technological advance, which speeds up the process, can tempt surgeons to remove too much fat, Stanek warns.
“If the patient was not sedated in some way, this would be excruciatingly painful. And, as with all operations done under general anaesthetic, there are risks from the anaesthetic itself,” adds Stanek, “And as after any surgery, infection can occur, as can blood clots or thrombosis.”
Thankfully, there has only been one reported death in the UK, following a rare procedure performed on obese people- breast liposuction. The success and safety of all operations, is down to the skill and experience of the surgeon, making the risks of liposuction the same as any other operation. But unlike other surgery in the UK, cosmetic surgery is not fully regulated.
Until recently, any cosmetic surgery procedure in the UK could be performed by any doctor of surgeon who set up in private practice. Some doctors who had only qualified as a GP managed to slip through the net and perform procedures.
The first regulations to prevent this from happening were brought in by the Department of Health in April this year. Under the National Minimum Standards and Regulations For Independent Health Care, surgeons should belong to a professional organisation that adheres to the General Medical Councils (GMC) ‘good medicine practice’.
Some experts in the field say this is not enough, describing the changes as paying lip service to the need for proper policing. “The regulations are not strict enough,” says Wendy Lewis, a cosmetic surgery consultant and author of Figure It Out. “This still means any medical doctor can legally do liposuction regardless of his or her training. As to who is policing these regulations, nobody knows.”
Leading New York cosmetic surgeon Dr. John E. Sherman agrees. “People die from this procedure – government regulations don’t protect the consumer.”
Umbrella organisations that surgeons can belong to such as the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), the British Association of Cosmetic Surgeons (BACS) or the British Association of Plastic Surgeons (BAPS) are private organisations where members pay to join.
“It’s like being a member of a club. Your name is on a list but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have the skill and experience required,” she says.
While statistics relating to the number and success of liposuction operations in the US exist, such figures are not available in the UK. This is cited by critics as another example of how little is known about what is going on in the cosmetic surgery industry.
All we can do is make sure we educate ourselves so we can make the best choices. Take time to find a surgeon and think carefully about whether you are the right candidate for liposuction.
But don’t panic, says Lewis. “Despite the horror stories, liposuction in the UK is safer and more effective than ever before. In a healthy patient, undergoing liposuction under the care of a fully-qualified plastic surgeon in a proper hospital setting should be a very low risk procedure.
“But it’s a big decision and you must make it carefully, knowing all the facts.”