Liposuction is a common cosmetic surgery designed to remove excess fat and shape body contours. As an invasive procedure using incisions, most types are performed with general anesthesia.

Tumescent liposuction, however, is a type of liposuction that can sometimes be performed without the general anesthesia that surgeries of this nature often require. This procedure, also called “local liposuction,” uses an infusion of adrenaline, saline, and local anesthesia prior to fat removal. The amount of saline solution injected is about two to three times larger than the volume of fat and liquid that is removed.

One concern with traditional liposuction is the increased risk of significant side effects from general anesthesia, as well as other risks like bleeding.

The idea behind tumescent liposuction is that it may be a safer alternative while still providing results. The other main advantage of this procedure is that it may avoid large shifts in body fluids that sometimes occur after removing a large volume of fat, which may result in low blood pressure.

However, as tumescent liposuction is still a major surgery, this doesn’t mean the procedure is without risk.

Learn more about the potential benefits and side effects of this procedure below, and talk with a plastic surgeon to determine whether it’s right for you.

Tumescent liposuction may be an alternative to more extensive surgeries of this type if you’re looking for a smaller amount of fat removal.

On average, the tumescent method removes about 3 to 5 liters of fat compared with 8 to 10 liters with traditional liposuction. This also shortens the recovery time. Most people can generally tolerate a procedure that removes up to 3 liters of fat and liquid. In some States, there is a legal limit of 5 liters that can be removed without requiring the person undergoing the procedure to remain hospitalized overnight to monitor blood pressure and other vital signs.

This type of cosmetic surgery is called “tumescent” because of the way the saline infusion makes the skin swell, purportedly increasing the accuracy of fat cell removal. Additionally, the adrenaline in the solution acts as a vasoconstrictor, reducing the risk of bleeding.

Using lidocaine instead of a general anesthesia may also decrease the risk of related side effects, such as:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • muscle aches
  • hypothermia
  • sore throat
  • headaches
  • delirium

Overall, some of the possible benefits may include a decreased risk of:

  • bleeding
  • pain and soreness
  • bruising
  • skin rippling after surgery

While the side effects of tumescent liposuction aren’t as significant, you may still experience:

  • mild burning when the local anesthesia is administered
  • pain at the treatment site
  • mild discomfort
  • minimal bleeding

Liposuction research in different ethnicities

While liposuction itself may be considered safe, it’s unclear whether side effects and risk factors vary among ethnicities. Research is lacking in this area, although statistics show that liposuction remains one of the most common cosmetic surgeries in both African American and Hispanic American communities.

You may consider asking your provider whether you’re at risk of hyperpigmentation and scarring if you have darker skin. Such side effects may be caused by changes in melanin.

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Like other types of liposuction, the tumescent method consists of small incisions in the treatment area followed by the suctioning of fat cells. The procedure requires smaller incisions, along with a shorter treatment time.

You may expect the following:

  1. First, your cosmetic surgeon will administer the adrenaline-lidocaine-saline solution into the area of treatment. They will wait 10 to 15 minutes until your body has fully absorbed the solution before continuing. In all, this may take up to 90 minutes.
  2. Next, your surgeon will make small incisions in your skin. Depending on the area of treatment, you may need four to eight incisions, with each one consisting of 1 to 3 millimeters (mm) in length.
  3. They will then start the process of fat aspiration via a tube called a cannula. With the tumescent technique, your surgeon will use a much smaller cannula called a microcannula.
  4. Once the procedure is complete, your surgeon will apply compression bandages to the treatment area. Unlike traditional liposuction, no sutures are required for the small incisions.

In total, you can expect the entire procedure to take 3 to 4 hours, versus 2 to 3 hours for a traditional liposuction. It can take longer if the procedure is performed under general anesthesia.

The recovery time for this type of liposuction can be significantly shorter than traditional surgeries. In fact, it’s estimated that people go back to work within 1 to 3 days, compared with several days or weeks with traditional liposuction.

You may still feel pain at the treatment site with the tumescent method. However, compared with traditional liposuction, the pain lasts an average of 24 hours.

And if the procedure is performed using general anesthesia, the pain or discomfort felt afterward is comparable to typical liposuction procedures. Depending on the treatment area and your own individual pain tolerance, you may not necessarily need pain medications.

Tumescent liposuction is a fat removal procedure, but it isn’t designed to decrease body weight. If you’re curious about what the results may look like, consider the following before and after photos.

Your plastic surgeon should also have a portfolio containing examples of their own work they can show you.

Your provider can help you determine whether tumescent liposuction is right for you. Ideally, you should be a nonsmoker and not have any serious underlying medical conditions. Both of these factors could impair healing post-surgery.

Also, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons recommends that candidates for any form of liposuction be within 30 percent of their “ideal” body weight. Good skin elasticity and muscle tone can also lead to better results.

On the flipside, you may not be a candidate for this procedure if you’re trying to lose weight. No form of liposuction is a treatment for weight loss, and it shouldn’t be used as such. Tumescent liposuction also doesn’t treat cellulite.

Overall, both standard and tumescent liposuction procedures have the same end goal of removing unwanted fat cells that don’t respond to conventional methods of diet and exercise.

Still, since standard liposuction removes more fat and requires general anesthesia, you can expect significant differences between the two procedures. Consider the following factors:

Tumescent LiposuctionStandard Liposuction
Target areasSmaller amounts of fat, with as little as 3 liters taken outLarger amounts of fat, up to 10 liters
Type of anesthesia usedLocalGeneral
Incisions1 to 3 mm in length1 to 1.5 cm in length
InfusionsLidocaine, saline, and adrenaline injected into fat cells prior to surgeryNone
Average surgery length3 to 4 hours2 to 3 hours
Possible side effectsMinimal pain, burning, and bleedingMore moderate risk of pain, bruising, and bleeding. Skin rippling and risks from general anesthesia are also possible.
Recovery timelineA few daysSeveral days or weeks
Post-surgery requirementsTemporary pain relievers possiblePain medications, sutures, and possible blood transfusion

Liposuction may cost between $1,000 to $20,000, with the average procedure priced at $3,617. Like other cosmetic procedures of its kind, tumescent liposuction isn’t covered by medical insurance.

Your overall cost of tumescent liposuction may depend on varying factors like:

  • where you live
  • your doctor’s fees
  • medical testing
  • facility fees
  • the area(s) being treated
  • medications or garments used after your surgery

Local liposuction using only tumescent fluid does not usually require a hospital stay, as long as moderate amounts of fluid and fat are being removed. Instead, your surgeon will perform the procedure on an outpatient basis. This may significantly reduce your bottom line. If it’s performed using general anesthesia, it will require hospitalization.

It’s important to understand all the costs associated with your procedure ahead of time so you don’t incur any surprise bills. Ask your doctor about financing and payment plans that can help you offset your costs.

The tumescent method is just one type of liposuction; it uses local anesthesia along with smaller incisions. It also can potentially pose fewer risks and a shorter recovery time.

In all, tumescent liposuction may be preferable if you’re looking to remove stubborn fat cells in a smaller treatment area. Your plastic surgeon will go over your treatment options and help determine whether you’re a good candidate for a tumescent procedure.