Water-Assisted Liposuction Makes a Big Splash

Reviewed by Theodore Diktaban, MD

Water-assisted liposuction promises to wash away unwanted fat with less trauma and bruising than other liposuction techniques.

There's more: According to advocates, the gentler removal technique used with this form of liposuction makes it possible to save the removed fat and use it to plump up other areas of your body that have lost volume, such as your aging hands, breasts and face. This may be a big selling point if you are interested in fat-based cosmetic procedures such as fat transfer to the breast and stem cell facelift.

What is Water-Assisted Liposuction?

As the name suggests, water-assisted liposuction with the Body-Jet system uses water to help loosen fat cells from connective tissue and then gently removes them. Your surgeon uses a thin hollow tube, or cannula, to dislodge the fat and suction it out.

In traditional liposuction, the cannula is passed through the tissue to the site where the fat is to be removed, and the fat is then destroyed or broken down before being suctioned out. With the water-assisted liposuction technique, the removed fat cells may be ''harvested'' and transferred to restore fullness to other areas of the body where extra fat is considered desirable. This is possible because the fat cells are not destroyed, as they are with other liposuction techniques.

While advocates cite this as a plus, some critics say the technique of fat transfer is still being perfected. Ask your surgeon what areas might benefit from fat transfer following water-assisted liposuction, and what results you can expect.

The Water-Assisted Liposuction Procedure

Typically, this procedure is performed on an outpatient basis in a surgery suite. Anesthesia is required for treatment, and may be general, intravenous sedation or local, depending on the body areas to be worked on, your wishes and your physician's input. Pain-relieving lidocaine is also added to the water to help minimize discomfort.

The amount of time required depends partly on the size of the area being treated. Water-assisted liposuction may take one to three hours to perform. This can be much shorter than a traditional liposuction procedure because there is no lengthy infiltration phase with water-assisted liposuction. The infiltration phase is when large volumes of wetting solution (a saline/epinephrine/lidocaine cocktail) are infused into the body.

Recovery time varies, but many people are free of discomfort after just a few days. Your doctor will advise you on when to resume normal activities.

Are You a Candidate for Water-Assisted Liposuction?

If you are less than 25 pounds overweight and have stubborn fat ''pockets'' that won't budge with diet and exercise, you may be a good candidate for water-assisted liposuction.

The most commonly treated areas are the abdomen, hips, back, thighs and knees. The technique is also used during facial lipo to treat the area beneath the chin. Surgeons often treat multiple areas at once.

Preparation for Water-Assisted Liposuction

Your plastic surgeon will offer specific advice about pre-surgery measures, such as dietary considerations and whether to stop taking certain medications.

Ask your doctor which type of anesthesia you will be receiving and whether you will need a driver to get you home after the procedure.

Water-Assisted Liposuction Results

After water-assisted liposuction, you can expect to see an improvement in the contours of the treated area(s). Exactly how long it takes to see these improvements varies.

Ask your board-certified plastic surgeon how long it will be before final results appear. As the healing continues, you may notice more and more improvement in your body's appearance.

Water-Assisted Liposuction Cost

The costs associated with liposuction with water are slightly higher than traditional liposuction costs, according to the manufacturer of the water-assisted liposuction device. That's partly due to extra supplies needed for the technique. The cost depends on the number of areas treated and how much fat is removed. A typical water-assisted liposuction treatment involves three areas and costs between $7,000 and $10,000; fat transfer adds to these costs.

Risks of Liposuction with Water

You should be aware of the general risks associated with liposuction of any type, which can include temporary swelling and bruising at the site or sites worked on.

The area may feel numb, but this effect is temporary. Other risks may include asymmetry, seroma (fluid accumulation) and hematoma (collection of blood outside the blood vessels that may clot). The discussion of potential risks and/or concerns you may have about the procedures should occur during your initial treatment consultation.

Choose a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon for Water-Assisted Liposuction

If you decide to have water-assisted liposuction, be sure to choose a board-certified plastic surgeon who has experience with this procedure. Water-assisted liposuction is different from traditional liposuction and other alternatives such as laser liposuction or ultrasound-assisted liposuction.

Water-assisted liposuction is also relatively new, so choosing someone who has performed the procedure many times boosts the chances of a good result.

Schedule consultations with two or three physicians to better evaluate their experience, the cost and your treatment expectations. Ask how long each surgeon has performed the procedure, what results you can expect, what potential complications may arise and how long your recovery will likely take. Also ask each plastic surgeon to see a portfolio of liposuction before and after pictures showing individuals who have had water-assisted liposuction under his/her care, and be sure to inquire about patient testimonials. Start your search for the right surgeon now.

About the Reviewer

Theodore Diktaban, MD, has specialized in plastic surgery since 1978. He is in private practice at Sadick Dermatology, with offices in New York City and Great Neck, NY. Dr. Diktaban is dually certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Otolaryngology. He received his medical degree from New York Medical College and completed his residency training at Lenox Hill Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Dr. Diktaban completed a fellowship in microsurgery at the University of Louisville.