A new study in the latest issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery has dealt a serious blow to previous reports that fat cells are redistributed to untreated areas after liposuction. Using a larger sample size and more precise measuring techniques, the study found no evidence of fat redistribution after liposuction.
A report published last year in the journal Obesity had concluded that fat returns to untreated areas of the body within a year after liposuction surgery. The study authors had concluded that the abdomen, shoulders, and arms were especially vulnerable. The news media quickly ran with the story, with a column in the New York Times featuring a caricature of a woman with a thin midsection and enormous shoulders.
However, many surgeons some problems with the Obesity study, including Kansas surgeon Eric Swanson. “Previous studies have evaluated small numbers of patients and used imprecise measuring techniques, limiting their power to reliably detect changes,” he writes. He decided to perform a new study with “a sufficient number of patients and… precise measurements, making the conclusions highly reliable.”
Dr. Swanson study evaluated 301 patients who had liposuction; either by itself or in combination with tummy tuck surgery. To measure the results, he used standardized photographs and computer-assisted body measurements, taken before the procedure and again at least three months afterwards.
The new study found no evidence of fat regrowth in the treated areas, which included arms, abdomen, and lower body. Upper body dimensions were unchanged after the procedure, and average reductions in hip measurements remained significant after one year or more. In fact, the average hip reduction was significant even among patients who gained five or more pounds after surgery.
What was Dr. Swanson’s conclusion? “Patients can be reassured that their improvements will last and they need not worry about putting weight back on disproportionately…. Of course, liposuction does not change your ability to gain or lose weight. Its value is in permanently reducing the number of fat cells in problem areas. For any given weight you will be in the future, your proportions will be better after liposuction, barring extremes in weight gain.”