Liposuction or tummy tuck: Which is right for you?

by Courtney Caplin, MD, DMD
Cosmetic Surgery Columnist


   Whether pregnancy or excess weight gain has changed how you look around the abdomen, many people are interested in making their waist smaller. Patients routinely ask about liposuction or tummy tucks, asking questions about which is right for them.

Liposuction removes fat in areas that have been resistant to diet and exercise. A tummy tuck (or abdominoplasty) focuses on removing excess skin and fat from the abdomen.

The most common areas we perform liposuction for are love handles, thighs, and any other small collections of fat. The procedure is most commonly performed under IV sedation. 

First, I administer a local anesthetic to the area of needed fat removal. The anesthetic numbs the area making it more comfortable during the procedure and post-operatively. It also contains epinephrine which causes the blood vessels to shrink down to minimize bleeding. 

Next, I make tiny incisions about the size of your pinky in a couple of hidden locations, and a small metal cannula attached to suction is used to suck the fat out. Once liposuction is performed, the fat cells removed are gone forever. Should a person gain weight again, it will go to where fat cells still exist.

Liposuction should not be used as a diet, but rather as a tool to get rid of the stubborn fat after diet and exercise have been exhausted.

A tummy tuck focuses on removing excess skin and fat from the abdomen. Liposuction is often performed at the same time to remove additional fat, but the tummy tuck is ideal for a person who has skin laxity. 

Often after pregnancy or even after massive weight loss, the skin cells lose their elasticity. Once those little rubber bands are stretched out, they will never go back to the way they were.

I often explain to patients during consultations that once the skin has been stretch out, no matter how hard they diet and exercise, they cannot get rid of the loose skin. In fact, often after performing liposuction, additional natural weight loss can make the appearance worse as it further deflates the area.

Tummy tucks are routinely performed as outpatient surgery through our practice at Cosmetic Surgery Affiliates. Routinely, we remove the extra skin from the belly button down below the panty line. The belly button stays in place, but the skin above the belly button is pulled down tightly, hiding the scar below the panty line.

The muscles often need to be repaired if they have been stretched apart, and I create a new hole for the belly button. All the stitches dissolve on their own and skin glue is placed over the top of the incision.

As mentioned previously, liposuction can be performed additionally to remove excess fat. 

With both procedures, you will see immediate results, although it takes about 4-6 weeks for the swelling to go down. During the first month, a compressive garment is recommended to help reduce the swelling. True results take between three to six months as the body continues to heal and shrink.

   I hope this has clarified any confusion you may have had about liposuction versus a tummy tuck.  If you are still unsure which may be right for you or a loved one, you may call my office at (405) 842-6677 for a complimentary consultation.