Health Team

Smart lipo is safer, but still has some risks

Posted February 26, 2010 12:40 p.m. EST
Updated February 26, 2010 6:20 p.m. EST

— Smart lipo is a cosmetic procedure popular among those seeking to get rid of unwanted body fat. It's safer than traditional liposuction, but it still carries some risks.

Liz Tavnan said she thought about getting a cosmetic procedure for weight loss for a long time. The 32-year-old said she worked hard trying to get back in shape after having two children.

"I exercise, and I just can't seem to lose my mid-section," she said.

Tavnan said she would never have considered traditional liposuction because it's done under general anesthesia. But smart lipo with plastic surgeon Dr. Cynthia Diehl appealed to her.

"It's local anesthesia, so it's not anything. I don't have to be put under," Tavnan said.

In smart lipo, a solution of local anesthetic and other medications are injected "to fill the fat layer, basically, with fluid to make it safer and decrease bleeding," Diehl said. A surgeon then guides a fiber-optic laser through unwanted fat cells. The laser liquefies and destroys the fat cells.

The patient can go home right after the surgery.

"Ultimately, you end up with less swelling, less bruising, less bleeding and less pain," Diehl said. "The recovery is much faster."

It takes several months for patients to see the final results of the procedure.

Since the Food and Drug Administration approved smart lipo four years ago, many physicians have gotten into the business simply by buying a laser and taking a training course.

Those standards have been controversial in medical circles, because they allow doctors to bypass the intensive training undergone by specialists in plastic surgery.

"People can do damage with a laser or with a regular liposuction machine," Diehl said. "They have to be very careful, and they have to know what they're doing."

Tivnan said that's why she wanted a plastic surgeon and why she's confident the results of smart lipo will be worth the time and money.

The procedure can cost between $2,000 and $7,000, depending on how much work is done. Since it's elective surgery, it's not covered by insurance.

Smart lipo costs less than traditional liposuction, because it doesn't require general anesthesia. It's also done in a plastic surgeon's office, rather than a hospital.