Are the procedures similar?

Abdominoplasty (also called a “tummy tuck”) and liposuction are two different surgical procedures that aim to change the appearance of your midsection. Both procedures claim to make your stomach appear flatter, tighter, and smaller. They’re both performed by plastic surgeons, and are considered “cosmetic,” so they aren’t covered by health insurance.

In terms of the actual procedure, recovery time, and risks, there are some key differences between the two. Keep reading to learn more.

Who is a good candidate?

Liposuction and tummy tucks often appeal to people with similar cosmetic goals. But there are some important differences.

Liposuction

Liposuction may be a good fit if you’re looking to remove small fat deposits. These are commonly found on the hips, thighs, buttocks, or stomach area.

The procedure will remove fat deposits from the targeted area, reducing bulges and improving contour. However, liposuction isn’t recommended as a weight loss tool. You shouldn’t get liposuction if you’re obese.

Tummy tuck

In addition to removing excess fat from the abdomen, a tummy tuck also removes excess skin.

Pregnancy or significant shifts in your weight can stretch out the skin that surrounds your stomach. A tummy tuck can be used to restore the look of a flat and contoured midsection. This procedure may involve bringing the rectus abdominus, or sit-up muscles, back together if they’ve been stretched or separated by pregnancy.

You may want to reconsider a tummy tuck if:

  • your body mass index is over 30
  • you’re considering getting pregnant in the future
  • you’re actively trying to lose weight
  • you have a chronic heart condition

What is the procedure like?

Liposuctions and tummy tucks are both performed by a plastic surgeon and require incisions and anesthesia.

Liposuction

You may be intravenously sedated for this procedure. In some cases, your surgeon will apply a local anesthetic to your midsection.

Once the area is numb, your surgeon will make small incisions around the site of your fat deposits. A thin tube (cannula) will be moved underneath your skin to loosen the fat cells. Your surgeon will use a medical vacuum to suction out the dislodged fat deposits.

It may take several sessions to achieve your desired result.

Tummy tuck

Your surgeon will put you to sleep via general anesthesia. After you’re sedated, they’ll make an incision at the bottom of the skin that covers your abdominal wall.

Once the muscles are exposed, your surgeon will sew the muscles in your abdominal wall together if they have become stretched out. They will then pull tight the skin over your abdomen, trim off excess skin, and close the incision with sutures.

A tummy tuck is done in one procedure. The entire surgery typically takes two to three hours.

What are the expected results?

Although liposuction and a tummy tuck both claim permanent results, significant weight gain after either procedure can alter this outcome.

Liposuction

People that have liposuction on their abdomen tend to see a flatter, more proportioned midsection once they have recovered from the procedure. These results are supposed to be permanent. But at least one study disagrees. According to this study, up to a year after the procedure, the fat deposits reappear, though they may show up elsewhere on your body. If you gain weight, fat will reaccumulate in your body, though not typically in the areas that were suctioned.

Tummy tuck

After a tummy tuck, the results are considered permanent. Your abdominal wall will be more stable and strong. The excess skin that has been removed won’t return unless fluctuation in weight or a subsequent pregnancy stretches out the area again.

What are the possible complications?

Although there are side effects associated with any surgery, each procedure poses different risks that you should be aware of.

Liposuction

With liposuction, your risk of complication increases if your surgeon is working on a large area. Performing multiple procedures during the same operation can also increase your risk.

Possible risks include:

  • Numbness. You may feel numbness in the affected area. Although this is often temporary, it may become permanent.
  • Contour irregularities. Sometimes the fat that’s removed creates a wavy or jagged impression on the top layer of your skin. This can make the skin appear less smooth.
  • Fluid accumulation. Seromas — temporary pockets of fluid — may form under the skin. Your doctor will need to drain these.

Rare risks include:

  • Infection. Infections may occur at the site of your liposuction incision.
  • Internal organ puncture. If the cannula penetrates too deeply, it may puncture an organ.
  • Fat embolism. An embolism occurs when a loosened piece of fat breaks away, becomes trapped in a blood vessel, and travels to the lungs or brain.

Tummy tuck

Tummy tucks have been shown to carry more complication risks than some other cosmetic procedures.

In one study, 8.5 percent of people who had a tummy tuck needed to return to the hospital because of some kind of complication. Wound complications and infections were among the most common reasons for readmission.

Other possible risks include:

  • Changes in sensation. Repositioning your abdominal tissue may affect the superficial sensory nerves in this area, as well as in your upper thighs. You may feel numbness in these areas.
  • Fluid accumulation. As with liposuction, temporary pockets of fluid may form under the skin. Your doctor will need to drain these.
  • Tissue necrosis. In some cases, fatty tissue deep within the abdominal area may get damaged. Tissue that doesn’t heal or dies must be removed by your surgeon.

What’s the recovery process like?

The recovery process is also different for each procedure.

Liposuction

Your recovery process will depend on how many areas were operated on, and whether additional liposuction sessions are needed.

After the procedure, you may experience:

  • swelling at the site of your fat removal
  • draining and bleeding at the site of your incision

Your surgeon may recommend that you wear a compression garment to help reduce swelling and help your skin heal smoothly over your new shape.

Because liposuction is an outpatient procedure, regular activity can be resumed fairly quickly. You should be able to do anything you usually do within the next 48 hours.

However, you should hold off on heavy weight lifting and extensive cardio until you’ve gotten approval from your doctor.

Tummy tuck

When you wake up, your incision will be covered in surgical dressing, which will need to be changed several times. Your surgeon will also provide you with a compression garment or “belly binder.”

Within one day, you should be up and walking (with assistance) to prevent the formation of blood clots. You’ll likely be taking prescription pain relievers and antibiotics to help ease any discomfort and reduce your risk of infection.

Surgical drains may also be in place for up to two weeks.

It takes six weeks for the initial recovery phase of a tummy tuck to pass, and you’ll need several follow-up appointments with your doctor to check on how your incision is healing. During this time, you should avoid any position that involves abdominal extension or bending backwards, which may pull or place too much tension on the incision.

You should also hold off on any strenuous physical activity or exercise until you get your doctor’s approval.

The bottom line

Although liposuction and tummy tucks both aim to improve the appearance of your midsection, these procedures are markedly different in their promised result and the way they work.

Liposuction is a straightforward procedure that carries little risk or recovery downtime. A tummy tuck is considered a more serious operation. Your doctor or potential surgeon will be your best resource in determining which procedure may be right for you.