The Skinny on Ultrasound-Assisted Liposuction

Reviewed by Peter Fodor, MD, FACS

You've learned to eat right and exercise every day, and now your weight is nearly at your goal. Your Pilates routine seems to be toning your core muscles, but you still have those flabby areas that stay stubbornly unchanged. It's often the dreaded ''muffin top'' that makes women look flabulous instead of fabulous in skinny jeans. For guys, it may be love handles or male breasts that create a less-than-slender appearance.

For these problem areas, and other pockets of unwanted fat, ultrasound-assisted liposuction may help. Many ultrasound-assisted liposuction systems are available, including UltraSculpt and VASER liposelection.

What Is Ultrasound-Assisted Liposuction?

As the name implies, ultrasound-assisted liposuction uses ultrasonic energy, or sound waves, to break down fat cells before they are removed via liposuction.

During traditional liposuction, a hollow metal tube (cannula) is passed through the tissue to the site where fat will be removed. The fat is then suctioned out with the help of a vacuum device.

When ultrasound therapy is incorporated into the treatment, the area to be treated is first infused with fluid. Next, a small probe is inserted through incisions in the skin. The probe emits ultrasound energy to break down the fat, emulsifying it into a more liquid state prior to its removal.

Following the use of ultrasound, the fat cells are quickly removed. This method causes less trauma to the surrounding tissues than is caused by the traditional method.

Ultrasound-assisted liposuction can be performed using local or general anesthesia. It also can be performed with an epidural, in which anesthesia is injected into the epidural space of the spine.

Deciding on the right form of anesthesia depends on a number of factors, including the area to be treated and the physician's recommendation and preference.

The length of time required to complete the procedure depends on how much fat is being removed.

Probes used in ultrasound-assisted liposuction vary in diameter. The diameter of the most recently developed probes, known as third-generation probes, is typically smaller than previous devices, requiring smaller incisions. Theoretically, this should yield less trauma and faster healing times than surgery performed with older probes.

Are You a Candidate for Ultrasound-Assisted Liposuction?

Whether you are a candidate for ultrasound-assisted liposuction depends partly on the location of the fat pockets you want to eliminate.

Fat on the hip, back and central body regions, including excess breast tissue on men (known as gynecomastia), typically responds well to ultrasound-assisted liposuction. Using the ultrasound technique during facial liposuction or when removing fat from the knees and inner thighs is not generally recommended. Experts believe that traditional liposuction is probably still best for those procedures because ultrasound energy may damage the anatomic structures in these areas.

Preparation for Ultrasound-Assisted Liposuction

Ask your plastic surgeon for specific advice about what to do before your procedure, such as stopping certain medications. For instance, aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may increase bleeding risks.

Most liposuction procedures are performed on an outpatient basis. You may need a friend or family member to drive you home after the surgery.

Ultrasound-Assisted Liposuction Results

You can expect liposuction assisted by ultrasound to improve contours of the area being treated. Ask your physician how long before you can expect the final results. As the healing process goes on, you may notice the area continues to improve.

Ultrasound-Assisted Liposuction Cost

Adding ultrasound to the liposuction procedure typically increases the cost. For instance, the physician fee for traditional liposuction is around $2,800, while the physician fee for ultrasound liposuction runs more than $3,090 for one area of the body. These cost estimates solely reflect your physician's fees and don't include fees for anesthesia, medical tests and other related costs. Request a complete estimate through your physician's office before you book your procedure. If the cost is prohibitive, ask your surgeon about financing plans.

Risks of Ultrasound Liposuction

Risks of liposuction using ultrasound are similar to those associated with traditional liposuction. After the procedure, temporary swelling and bruising at the site are common, as is some discomfort. The treated areas may feel numb, but this is usually temporary.

Your physician may ask you to wear a compression garment or girdle to lessen any swelling and bleeding for two to six weeks after the procedure.

Choose a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon for Ultrasound Liposuction

Remember, liposuction is surgery. If you decide to have ultrasound-assisted liposuction, choose a board-certified plastic surgeon with experience performing this type of liposuction, as it is somewhat different than traditional liposuction.

Consult with two or three physicians, and ask questions to better help you select the right surgeon. Such questions may include:

  • How long have you been using ultrasound-assisted liposuction?
  • What is your rate of complications?
  • Can I view before-and-after liposuction pictures of people who have had the same procedure?

Begin your search for a local surgeon now.

About the Reviewer of This Article

Peter Bela Fodor, MD, FACS, of Los Angeles, is an internationally recognized leader in the field of aesthetic plastic surgery and is highly respected by the profession as a surgeon, teacher and author. Dr. Fodor is associate clinical professor of plastic surgery at UCLA Medical Center. He lectures and performs live surgical demonstrations nationally and internationally.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin Medical School, Dr. Peter Fodor completed his general surgery residency at New York's Columbia University and his plastic surgery residency at St. Luke's – Roosevelt Hospital. Dr. Fodor maintains hospital staff privileges at UCLA Medical Center, Century City Doctors Hospital and Olympia Hospital, all in Los Angeles, as well as at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif. He is board-certified by both the American Board of Surgery and the American Board of Plastic Surgery.