Like any surgical procedure, liposuction does require some type of anesthesia to make the patient more comfortable during the procedure. It is normal for patients to feel anxious about anesthesia, but these fears can be alleviated. The type administered depends on the type of liposuction performed.

When tumescent liposuction is performed, a diluted local anesthetic is injected into subcutaneous fat at the sites where liposuction is to be performed. A capillary constrictor called Epinephrine is also injected to reduce bleeding.  The site of the liposuction becomes numb and eliminates the need for a general anesthetic. The patient is conscious but comfortable during the procedure. The recovery time is shorter due to the use of a local anesthetic.

During conventional liposuction, the patient is put under general anesthesia. The patient is not conscious during surgery and recovery time may take longer than with tumescent liposuction.

In both cases, once the patient is numbed, the surgeon makes a series of small incisions and inserts a tiny cannula, or tube that is connected to a vacuum. The surgeon moves the cannula back and forth underneath the skin and breaks up the fat cells and contours the body.  In some instances, an ultrasound may be used to rupture the fat cells. The goal of both techniques is to cause the fat to become soft and easy to extract. As the fat is removed, narrow tunnels are made underneath the skin. As these empty cavities collapse and the area heals, the body develops its new contours.

General anesthesia has more risks than a local anesthetic applied directly to the surgery site. Under a general anesthetic, there is a risk of respiratory depression and the impairment of airway reflexes (involuntary reactions that keep airways open). The only liposuction deaths ever reported in the U.S. occurred when the patients were under general anesthesia. No deaths have been reported related to tumescent liposuction. Liposuction risks attributed to the type of anesthetic used can be managed by a trained anesthesiologist and certified surgeon.