If you want to improve the contour and appearance of your abdomen, a tummy tuck and liposuction will be among your options. But which of the two is the best option?
The answer will depend on certain variables, including skin laxity, muscle laxity, stubborn belly fat, and your cosmetic goals. In some cases, surgeons can combine liposuction and tummy tuck for better results.
Are the Procedures Similar?
Tummy tuck and liposuction are cosmetic surgeries performed by board-certified plastic surgeons to improve the contour of the abdomen.
Both procedures occur in a hospital, an office-based surgical facility, or an ambulatory surgical center.
A tummy tuck (also called abdominoplasty) removes extra skin and fat from the stomach and restores weakened or separated abdominal muscles. And liposuction (also called lipoplasty) breaks down and suctions out excess fat from specific areas of the body.
Who Is a Good Candidate?
Your plastic surgeon will examine your abdomen to determine which of the two treatments is right for you.
A good candidate for liposuction has:
- Excess fat deposits that don’t respond to exercise and diet on areas such as the chin, neck, arms, belly, thighs, and buttocks.
- Very minimal to no skin laxity. If your skin has poor elasticity, it will not retract and conform to your new body contours after liposuction.
- No muscle laxity as only tummy tuck surgery can repair your abdominal muscles.
A good candidate for abdominoplasty has:
- Loose skin on the stomach. An extended tummy also addresses unwanted skin on the hips, flanks, and lateral thighs.
- Weakened or separated abdominal muscles due to pregnancy or massive weight loss.
- No plans of getting pregnant in the future.
- A ventral hernia. Ventral hernias occur when the intestine or other abdominal tissue protrudes through a gap in the abdominal wall. Combining hernia repair with a tummy tuck corrects the ventral hernia and tightens the abdominal muscles. The latter prevents future occurrences.
A good candidate for both procedures:
- Is in good health and does not have conditions that could complicate surgery, such as coronary artery disease and diabetes
- Is at a stable weight
- Does not smoke
- Has realistic expectations
Cost of Liposuction vs. Tummy Tuck
The cost range of the procedures, according to RealSelf, is between $2,100 and $11,500 for liposuction and between $3,175 and $13,375 for a tummy tuck.
How much you pay will depend on factors such as your surgeon’s level of experience, size of the treatment area, the location of the surgical facility, and the procedure costs. The final price of your procedure may include fees for the following:
- Hospital or surgical facility
- Operating room
- Medical tests
- Post-surgery garments
Health insurance does not usually cover cosmetic surgery. You can talk to your plastic surgeon about patient financing, which allows you to pay for your liposuction or tummy tuck over time.
If you combine abdominoplasty with hernia repair, your insurance may cover some of the costs of your procedure.
What Happens During the Procedures
A liposuction procedure involves the following steps:
- An anesthesiologist gives you medication to prevent pain during the procedures. Anesthetics work by inducing temporary loss of sensation or consciousness. They include general anesthesia, local anesthesia, or intravenous sedation.
- Your plastic surgeon injects a saline solution containing lidocaine and epinephrine into the area requiring treatment.
- The surgeon then makes small, inconspicuous incisions and inserts a cannula, which loosens the excess fat by moving the cannula back and forth.
- The dislodged fat is suctioned out from your body using a vacuum pump attached to the cannula.
- Lastly, the incisions are closed using stitches and then bandaged. The surgeon may leave the incisions open and place small tubes to drain excess fluid and blood.
The procedure takes 1 to 3 hours, depending on the extent of fat removal.
A tummy tuck procedure involves the following steps:
- You receive general anesthesia, causing you to become completely unaware hence not feel pain during surgery.
- Your surgeon makes a horizontal incision across your lower abdomen in the area between your belly button and pubic hairline. The degree of correction required will determine the length of the incision used and whether a second incision around the navel will be necessary.
- The surgeon then lifts your abdominal skin, exposing the muscles underneath. If your muscles have separated, the doctor will tighten them using permanent sutures.
- Next, the surgeon pulls the skin down and removes the excess skin and fat.
- In some cases, the surgeon creates a new opening for the belly button then sutures it into position.
- Your surgeon will then pull taut the remaining skin and suture it together before applying bandages to your incisions.
The procedure can take anywhere between 2 to 5 hours to complete.
What To Expect During Recovery
The recovery process for both procedures also differs, particularly the downtime needed.
How soon you leave the hospital after your procedure is complete will depend on the anesthesia used.
If you have general anesthesia, you’ll spend at least a few hours in the hospital before you can go home so medical personnel can monitor your breathing and heart function. But if you have a local anesthetic, you may go home as soon as you feel well enough.
Expect some pain, swelling, bruising, inflammation, and numbness. Your surgeon may prescribe pain medication to help relieve the pain and inflammation.
Wearing a compression garment will help minimize the swelling and bruising and help your skin adhere to your new body contours. You’ll need to wear it for a few weeks.
Depending on factors, such as the treated areas and the liposuction technique used, you may need a few days or weeks off from work. Most people can resume normal activities, including exercise, within 3-4 weeks.
Tummy tuck recovery
After your abdominoplasty, your surgeon may place surgical drains near the incision site to remove blood or other fluids that may build up. The tubes only stay in place for a few days to reduce the risk of infection.
You’ll also likely have moderate pain, so your doctor will prescribe pain medication. Swelling and bruising are other common side effects. To help with this, you’ll need to wear an abdominal binder for about six weeks following surgery.
Most doctors recommend that you take at least two weeks off from work. The more downtime, the better. During the first six weeks, you want to avoid activities and positions that put a strain on your stitches as it can cause your incisions to reopen.
Liposuction vs. Tummy Tuck Results
Here’s what to expect regarding how soon the procedure results will be visible and how long they will last.
Following liposuction, you will have some swelling that should improve in 6 weeks. By this time, you will notice the treated area appears slimmer and shapelier. However, it can take up to several months to see your final results.
Liposuction results are long-lasting as long as you maintain a stable weight. Gaining weight after the procedure may result in changes in body fat distribution.
For instance, if your hips were the problem area, you may find that fat is now accumulating in your buttocks.
However, a 2012 study found that after liposuction, body fat returns but reaccumulates slower in some areas than others. And this is despite maintaining a healthy lifestyle after undergoing liposuction.
Tummy tuck results
If you have significant excess skin and fat removed, there will be a noticeable difference immediately after your tummy tuck surgery.
But your final results will be obscured by swelling and your inability to stand up straight for a week or two.
The swelling can take up to three months to subside, but slight swelling may persist up to a year after surgery.
Once the swelling subsides, you should see the full effect of your abdominoplasty. Ideally, the procedure should result in a flat and well-toned abdomen.
What Are the Possible Complications?
Every surgical procedure carries risks. Common risks of surgery include bleeding, infection, and allergic reaction to anesthesia. So what could go wrong?
- Contour irregularities due to poor skin elasticity, uneven fat removal, or poor wound healing
- Persistent numbness
- Internal organ puncture
- Fat embolism, i.e., the presence of fat globules in the bloodstream
- Blood clot-related complications, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism, ischemic stroke, heart attack, and kidney problems
- Pulmonary edema, which is the build-up of fluid in the lungs
- Burn injuries from the friction produced by cannula movement or the high levels of heat associated with ultrasound-assisted and laser-assisted liposuctions
- Lidocaine toxicity
According to a 2015 study, tummy tuck surgery has a higher complication rate than other cosmetic plastic surgery procedures, including liposuction—3.1% versus 1.5%. The risk of complication is even higher if combined with other aesthetic surgery procedures.
Tummy tuck possible complications include:
- Accumulation of fluid (seroma)
- Blood clots
- Death or damage of fatty tissue located deep in the skin (fat necrosis)
- Numbness or other changes in skin sensation
- Poor wound healing
- Wound dehiscence
- Unfavorable scarring
- Possible need for corrective surgery
The likelihood of surgical complications reduces significantly in the hands of a board-certified surgeon. Here are tips on how you can find a qualified plastic surgeon.
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) (n.d). Liposuction (Lipoplasty). plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/liposuction
- Realself (September 1, 2020). Tummy Tucks: Everything you should know. realself.com/surgical/tummy-tuck
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) (December 5, 2016). Tummy tuck or liposuction. plasticsurgery.org/news/blog/tummy-tuck-or-liposuction
- AEDIT ( March 19, 2021). Abdominal Slimming solutions. aedit.com/procedure/abdominal-slimming-solutions
- Realself (September 1, 2020). Liposuction: What You Should Know. realself.com/surgical/liposuction
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) (n.d). Tummy Tuck (Abdominoplasty). plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/tummy-tuck