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Ultrasonic Liposuction – a technique in transition

Author: Letty's Staff Writer

Ultrasound liposuction is a surgical technique in plastic surgery that has gain and lost popularity over the last decade.

There are many reasons why this is so.

Side-effects, expense, and public perception are just three factors that have played a part in the mixed review that ultrasonic liposuction has received... However, the technique never seems to go away.

In fact, it gets reinvented in newer, better forms and has become more common place over the years.

This article aims to speak candidly about both the strengths and weaknesses of the technique and perhaps give some insight about its fluctuating momentum in the plastic surgery community.

What is ultrasonic liposuction?

Good question.

Ultrasonic liposuction is very similar to traditional liposuction in how it is performed.

In both traditional and ultrasound-assisted liposuction - a fluid containing local anesthetic is injected into the fatty tissue layer located between the skin and muscle. The fluid not only helps to prevent discomfort for the patient – but also helps to solubilize fat (fancy term for - helps to the make the fat more liquid).

Where ultrasound liposuction differs is that a device producing ultrasonic energy is used. This device is mechanically attached to the traditional surgical equipment so that it occurs during the surgery and doesn't generally require an extra surgical step. This ultrasonic energy causes fat cells to vibrate rapidly, thus breaking up the cell walls and allowing the fatty material to leak out.

The injected fluid and fat are then removed from the treatment area using low-pressure suction.

What is the advantage of ultrasonic liposuction over traditional?

Well there are a few theoretical advantages that the ultrasonic technique has:

  1. UAL (Ultrasound-Assisted Liposuction) treated fat is easier to remove.
  2. There is less bruising and bleeding in the UAL version.
  3. UAL selectively targets fat cells preserving underlying nerves and connective tissue.
  4. Ultrasonic energy can have the effect of shortening collagen fibers in underlying dermal tissues.

I'm sure you will have noticed that I said "theoretical" earlier. This is because these are advantages that you hope to see with the ultrasonic technique.. In practice there are some significant negatives that have been seen with ultrasonic liposuction as well.

What are the side effects of ultrasound liposuction?

In addition to the risks involved in traditional liposuction – ultrasonic liposuction has some very specific potential side effects.

Let's talk about the risks that both techniques share in common first:

  1. Infection.
  2. Bruising and swelling.
  3. Blood and fat clotting (embolism).
  4. Adverse reaction to numbing fluid.

This isn't a complete list of potential side-effects associated with liposuction. There is a common myth about liposuction – and that is, "It's as simple as having your teeth cleaned." It is not. Liposuction is surgery – Period – and there are risks associated with it.

Again, ultrasonic liposuction has some additional risks specific to it:

  1. Burning. The energy associated with the ultrasonic probe is hot. Think of a clothes iron. If the iron is kept moving over the surface of the clothing the fabric does not burn. It is the same with ultrasonic-liposuction. It takes doctor experience to keep the probe moving during surgery so that tissues are not burned.

Because of the added risks associated with the ultrasonic technique it has lost some favor over the years, but has not entirely gone away.

The technique has a higher learning curve for physicians – and the equipment is more expensive than the traditional technique. So many doctors have reasoned that because the results are very similar to traditional liposuction – and the expense and inconvenience of the technique is greater... why perform the technique at all.

  • Why your surgeon MAY choose UAL:

    One reason why the technique has remained available is that some doctors have seen greater skin retraction after using ultrasonic technology in their patients.

    Retraction can help patients whose skin is not quite as elastic as the traditional technique requires (i.e. older patients). For that reason some docs still use it in their practices.

In Conclusion:

Another set of risks associated with any plastic surgery come from the patient's specific health profile. The take home lesson here is that you should have a thorough conversation with your surgeon. During this conversation you should talk about all of the potential risks associated with ultrasound-liposuction, and with your health history.

Be thorough.. AND realistic.

Should you not prove to be a good candidate for surgery – you may have to accept an alternative procedure or another approach to contouring your body.

Great video.. Definitely worth the 'look-see':

FOX News' 4YourHealth discusses the latest version of UAL..

Ultrasound Liposuction References:

  • Heltzel, Melissa. "Ultrasound-assisted lipoplasty revisited: once fallen out of favor, UAL technique offers real benefits over traditional SAL, surgeon says." Cosmetic Surgery Times. Oct. 2004: 32. General OneFile (21 June 2011).

  • Greene, Lisa. "Know facts before removing your fat." St. Petersburg Times [St. Petersburg, FL] 23 Dec. 2007: 1A. General OneFile (21 June 2011).

  • Moss, Rose, Charles J. Moss, and David R. Broadway. "Body Contouring with Ultrasound-assisted Lipoplasty." AORN Journal 71.2 (2000): 370. General OneFile (22 June 2011).

  • "Sound waves help break up fat." USA Today [Magazine] Oct. 1997: 15+. General OneFile (21 Jun 2011).

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