Ultrasonic liposuction is a type of fat loss procedure that liquefies fat cells before their removal. This is done with the guidance of an ultrasound combined with ultrasonic waves to target fat cells. This type of cosmetic surgery is also known as ultrasound-assisted liposuction (UAL).

Liposuction is the most common type of aesthetic procedure performed in the United States. While the purpose is to get rid of fat and sculpt your body, liposuction isn’t intended for weight loss. Instead, the procedure can remove smaller areas of fat deposits that are difficult to target with diet and exercise.

UAL is sometimes used in place of suction-assisted liposuction (SAL). While SAL is the oldest and most tried-and-true version of this surgery, it has some limitations that UAL seeks to fill. It has the added benefits of:

  • more precisely removing fat
  • getting rid of stubborn fibrous fat, or “fat rolls”
  • increasing skin contraction
  • preserving surrounding nerves

UAL may also reduce surgeon fatigue, as it liquefies the fat before it’s sucked out. This may provide better results for people undergoing the procedure.

While UAL is a more precise form of liposuction, there are a few downsides to this cosmetic procedure. First, there’s a greater risk of scarring compared to SAL. Skin loss, abdominal holes, and nerve damage are also possible. There’s also a risk of infection — just as with any type of surgery.

Another possibility is the development of seromas. These are fluid-filled pockets that can develop where liposuction takes place. They’re a result of a combination of old blood plasma and dead cells exiting the body from the lipoplasty.

One review of 660 UALs found other side effects, too. The following effects were reported:

The Mayo Clinic doesn’t recommend liposuction for people with the following:

Your surgeon will give you some instructions prior to the procedure. At this appointment, make sure you tell them about all supplements and medications you take. They’ll likely ask you to stop taking blood-thinning drugs — including ibuprofen (Advil) — several days before your surgery.

UAL may be used in the following areas of the body:

  • abdomen
  • back
  • breasts
  • buttocks
  • lower extremities (legs)
  • upper extremities (arms)

Most UALs are done on an outpatient basis. You can expect to have the surgery in a medical office and go home the same day. If your surgeon is covering a large area, they may conduct the procedure at a hospital instead.

Depending on coverage, your surgeon will use either local or topical anesthesia to numb the area. Once the anesthesia kicks in, your surgeon will insert a rod into your skin that will deliver ultrasonic energy. This destroys the walls of fat cells and liquefies them. After the liquification process, the fat is removed by a suction tool called a cannula.

Recovery from UAL is relatively brief compared to the results timeline. Since this is usually an outpatient procedure, you’ll be able to go home right away if you don’t have any side effects. You may need to take a few days off school or work to rest.

Your doctor may recommend moderate exercise, such as walking, within a few days of the procedure. This helps keep your blood flowing, so blood clots don’t develop. If you have swelling, you may wear compression garments.

It’s important to keep in mind that UAL won’t get rid of cellulite. If this is your goal, you may want to consider other procedures.

The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) says that you may not see full results for several months. The association also says that UAL has the quickest recovery time compared to other types of liposuction. Swelling and other mild side effects usually subside after a few weeks.

Liposuction is considered a cosmetic procedure. Therefore, medical insurance is unlikely to cover this type of surgery.

You may consider talking to your doctor about a payment plan. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimates that the average liposuction costs $3,200. Costs may vary depending on the area being treated, as well as whether you require hospitalization.

From a medical standpoint, UAL is considered an effective treatment for unwanted fat. A 2010 report found that 80 percent of 609 people who underwent UAL between 2002 and 2008 were satisfied with their results. Satisfaction was determined by overall fat loss and weight loss maintenance.

However, the authors of the same study found that about 35 percent ended up gaining weight. Much of these gains happened within the first year of the procedure. The authors recommend lifestyle counseling before and after UAL to help prevent weight gain.

On the flipside, other medical professionals don’t advocate for any form of liposuction. In fact, the Office on Women’s Health says that the procedure “does not promise lasting weight loss.” This agency, which is associated with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, advocates for calorie reduction techniques instead.

Also, the ASDS recommends that prospective candidates be within a “normal” weight prior to this procedure. This reduces the risk of side effects. Plus, this helps ensure that you practice healthy lifestyle habits before and after the surgery.

While UAL has a high rate of safety and success, you may not be the best candidate for this procedure. Talk to your doctor about all the available options for fat loss, and whether cosmetic surgery is a good idea.

Alternatives to UAL include:

Despite some of the risks, UAL is a preferred method of surgical fat reduction by plastic surgeons. Aesthetic Surgery Journal deems UAL as more effective and less risky compared to other types of liposuction.

Finally, if you’re considering this type of liposuction, it’s important to choose a surgeon with experience in UAL. This reduces your risk for injuries and side effects.