A self-described athlete, thirty-year-old Jeanne Smith of Washington, DC, is fit, active, and happy. But like many young women, she has felt dissatisfied with her looks. Because she works in the medical field, Smith knows about its latest trends and techniques. So when friends talked about their satisfaction with liposuction, Smith already knew about the procedure and readily considered its pros and cons. She decided it suited her.
She wanted some body sculpting and knew what she was getting into. "I had basically the lower half of my body done, and it was pretty targeted surgery," she says. "I experienced drainage afterwards and that's normal. I stayed out of work for about one week, though I was active during that time. I went to movies, out to dinner ... but was not up to my 100-percent best."
That was more than one year ago, and Smith says she is happy with her new trimmer look.
Or consider the case of Robert F. Jackson, M.D., board-certified cosmetic surgeon of Marion, Ind., and chairman of the liposuction committee of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. Himself a liposuction patient, Jackson had excess tummy fat--a potbelly, he calls it--removed. "The day after the surgery, I felt sore," he says, "but the pain was minimal." His surgery took place on Friday morning, and by Monday, Jackson was back at work.
These cases represent two of the many individuals who have helped make liposuction the most popular form of cosmetic surgery today. An estimated 287,000 procedures were performed in 1999, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Liposuction has become the technique of choice for people who want an improved body shape, a body sculpted to reflect their own--and society's--ideals of physical beauty. Moreover, liposuction may be used in conjunction with facelifts, for chin and tummy tucks, and to reduce the size of abdomens, hips, and thighs.
"Most liposuction procedures are done for purely cosmetic reasons," says Lori Brown, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. But she adds that some medical conditions, such as large breasts in men; lipomas, or fatty lumps; or fatty deposits like the buffalo hump--caused by hormonal imbalances that grow masses of fat on and around the neck--may be treated with liposuction.
But the rise in its popularity and changes in the techniques doctors use to perform liposuction have raised concerns within FDA. There is growing evidence that the increased aggressiveness with which the procedure is performed--especially the amount of tissue sucked from the body, the venues in which the procedures are performed, and the amount of anesthesia used to sedate patients during increasingly lengthy procedures--may be increasing the risk of post-surgical complications and even death.