Uses, Benefits, Side Effects & More

A range of weight-loss surgeries and treatments can manage difficult cases of excess weight or pockets of stubborn fat. Indicated to take on the negative health effects of obesity, bariatric surgery refers to a class of treatments that changes the digestive system to restrict your food intake.

Liposuction, a cosmetic, body-contouring procedure, involves a more targeted removal of fat content. Though both procedures may result in weight loss, it’s important to understand your options. Liposuction is better used for body contouring, while bariatric surgery is effective for weight loss.

This article breaks down the differences between bariatric surgery and liposuction. However, make sure to see a health provider, so you can receive proper treatment.   

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What to Know About Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery is a range of techniques focused on changing your body’s ability to digest food. This leads to rapid weight loss, which is sustained with dietary and lifestyle changes. Each bariatric surgery has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and the choice to go ahead involves careful consideration with a bariatric surgeon and your provider.

How Does It Work?

Primarily, bariatric surgeries are indicated in cases of morbid obesity, a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more, or a BMI of 35 or more alongside a related condition, such as type 2 diabetes or sleep apnea. They may also be indicated with a BMI of 30 or more if other measures to lose weight haven’t worked.

While bariatric surgery doesn’t lead to instant results, it causes rapid weight loss within three to six months of the procedure. This is caused by changes to your eating patterns and should be accompanied by lifestyle changes. After one year, researchers found those who had one type of surgery, gastric bypass, lost 31.2% of total weight. This figure was 25.2% with another common approach, gastric sleeve, and 13.7% with a third, gastric band.


In the United States, there are three main bariatric procedures. These options are:

  • Gastric bypass: Also called Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, the aim of this surgery is to basically reroute a part of your digestive system. Gastric bypass is done in three steps: First, the surgeon uses staples to create a smaller pouch out of your stomach; then they split the small intestines into two parts. Finally, this pouch is surgically connected, bypassing the upper portion of the intestinal tract. 
  • Gastric sleeve: Another approach is the gastric sleeve, also known as sleeve gastrectomy PRN. In this irreversible procedure, the surgeon takes away about 80% of the stomach. Using staples, they leave a sleeve made up of the remaining portion. This makes you feel full quicker and can change hormone balances to promote weight loss.
  • Gastric band: This approach makes no permanent changes to anatomy and involves placing a specialized band around the upper portion of the stomach. This ring, known as a gastric or lap band, creates a smaller pouch, reducing your digestive capacity. Throughout the course of treatment, the surgeon adjusts the band by adding or taking away the saline-filled balloon inside the band. This therapy generally produces less or more gradual weight loss than the others.

Side Effects

Though largely safe, bariatric surgery is associated with a range of side effects and adverse events. Depending on the surgery you have, you may experience:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Leaking at surgical sites (the stomach for gastric sleeve, or the juncture of the stomach and intestines for gastric bypass)
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood clots

In rarer cases, adverse side effects require revision surgery or additional treatment. These include:

  • Stricture, a narrowing of the existing stomach or intestines
  • Hernias, or rips at incisions sites
  • Vitamin or nutrient deficiency
  • Gallstones

The rapid weight loss accompanying bariatric surgery can also cause symptoms. During the first three to six months after treatment—as your body is shedding those pounds the quickest—there may be other symptoms, including:

  • Body aches
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling of cold
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss

Notably, bariatric surgery—and the rapid changes afterward—can also increase the risk of developing depression and other mental health disorders. Psychological evaluation is necessary before treatment, and counseling is typically needed afterward.

The Safety of Bariatric Surgery

Though bariatric surgery is safe, its complications can become fatal. Advances in minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery techniques over the last two decades have dramatically improved outcomes. Deaths are very rare; the mortality rate of these procedures is between 0.03% and 0.4%, making it about as safe as a hip replacement.

Prices & Where to Get It

Bariatric surgeries may be performed in an outpatient clinic or a hospital; depending on the approach, you need an overnight stay. Treatments are best guided collaboratively, by a team that includes your primary care physician, the bariatric surgeon, a nutritionist, and a mental health counselor or therapist.

How much you end up paying for bariatric surgery depends on your insurance, the nature of the treatment, as well as the surgeon performing the work. According to a review published in 2017, the average cost of bariatric surgery was $14,329 and ranged from $7,423 to $33,541. Before making any decisions, talk to your insurance company about what is and is not covered.

What to Know About Liposuction

Performed by a plastic surgeon, liposuction refers to a set of cosmetic procedures that directly remove fat from specific parts of the body. Though highly effective, this surgical procedure has some risks, and you may experience side effects. Here’s a quick breakdown of how liposuction works, and what you can expect.

How Does It Work?

Liposuction is a means of improving the appearance of your body by removing specific fat deposits in the body. It doesn’t help with obesity, excess weight, or any of the related risks and is best for those who are slightly overweight or have unwanted fat deposits in the body.

This class of treatment, also known as body contouring, targets and removes fat deposits in different parts of the body, including the:

  • Thighs
  • Ankles
  • Knees
  • Upper arms
  • Chin
  • Breasts
  • Abdomen
  • Buttocks

Following liposuction, it takes about four to six weeks for you to grow into your new body shape. Not without some risk of complications, it causes significantly less weight loss than bariatric surgery.

Liposuction Delivery

So how does it work? Here’s a quick breakdown of a typical liposuction procedure:

  • Preparation: The procedure is performed while you’re under local anesthesia or while you are sleeping so you won’t feel pain. The targeted area is clean and sterilized in preparation for surgery.
  • Incision and injection: The surgeon makes a small incision at the targeted area, and injects tumescent fluid under the skin. This fluid breaks down the fat deposits. Some surgeons use guided ultrasound or lasers to liquefy the fat tissue.
  • Suction: Using a specialized liposuction machine or a large syringe, the plastic surgeon essentially vacuums or sucks out the dislodged fat. Depending on the case, multiple sites may be treated.
  • Drainage: Following the removal of the fat, you may or may not be fitted with temporary drainage tubes for two to three days after surgery. These prevent the fluid buildup that may arise following surgery.    
  • Fluid replacement: Intravenous (IV) fluid replacement therapy or blood transfusion may be needed if you’ve lost a lot of blood during the procedure.
  • Closing up: The incision or incisions will be sealed off with bandages and a compression garment. Carefully follow the surgeon’s guidance about how to care for the affected areas after surgery.    

Because of the directed way that liposuction removes body fat, you may need additional procedures to remove loose or excess skin.  

Side Effects

There are a number of side effects and risks associated with liposuction, though the procedure overall is safe. The complication rate is very low, estimated to be between 0.7% and 2.4%. Possible side effects may include:

  • Numbness or tingling at the incision site
  • Shock
  • Swelling and fluid buildup
  • Infection
  • Fat embolism, in which pieces of fat block arteries or veins
  • Damage to nerves, skin, organs, or tissues due to the procedure
  • Excessive bleeding, blood clotting
  • Uneven or irregular results, asymmetry
  • Dented, or dimpled
  • Overdose or adverse reactions to lidocaine, a medication used during surgery
  • Scarring, loose or baggy skin

Though very rare, the complications of liposuction can become fatal.  

Prices & Where to Get It

Liposuction is done in outpatient settings, such as specialized cosmetic surgery clinics or hospitals. It’s performed by a plastic surgeon, and it doesn’t typically require an overnight stay. Since it’s a cosmetic procedure, liposuction isn’t often covered by insurance plans.

However, financing plans may be available; talk to the plastic surgeon’s office about how much it will cost. As with bariatric surgery, how much you pay depends on the scope and scale of the work done. In a broad survey conducted in 2020, the average cost of treatment was found to be $3,637.   

Which Treatment Is Best for You?

So which approach is best for you? There are many factors to consider when deciding between bariatric surgery and liposuction:

  • Liposuction is a cosmetic treatment for body augmentation. while bariatric surgeries primarily take on obesity and related medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Liposuction is typically not indicated if you’re obese or to treat obesity.
  • Bariatric surgery may involve permanent changes to your digestive system and is the more invasive option.
  • Outpatient liposuction generally removes between 2 to 8 pounds of fat, whereas bariatric surgeries lead to more dramatic weight loss.
  • Bariatric surgery addresses the underlying causes of obesity; liposuction only makes changes to your appearance.
  • The risk of developing serious side effects is higher with bariatric surgery compared to liposuction.
  • Results from liposuction are seen sooner—within six weeks—than with bariatric surgery, which takes about three to six months.
  • Recovery from liposuction is relatively quicker than bariatric surgery, which may require an overnight stay in the hospital.

Good Choices

When you meet with your healthcare provider, they will give you the options that will be most effective in treating your obesity or weight-related condition.

Can Bariatric Surgery and Liposuction Be Used Together?

Liposuction can help to complement and augment the results of bariatric surgery. It’s often considered alongside skin removal to rework the silhouette or get rid of stubborn fat deposits, especially when the lifestyle changes associated with treatment aren’t yielding results. The choice to go ahead is an individual one, based on your medical status and the goals of the procedure.   

Coping With the Side Effects of Bariatric Surgery and Liposuction

Both bariatric surgery and liposuction require significant preparation and periods of recovery. All told, it takes between three to six weeks to recover from bariatric surgery, with this taking about three weeks for liposuction. As you recover, keep in mind:

  • Incision care: After liposuction, you’ll need to wear bandages for at least two weeks, and you’ll be instructed on the care of incisions after bariatric surgery. Let your provider know if you see signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or fever.
  • Pain management: Let your healthcare provider know if you’re experiencing excessive pain or discomfort after the procedure; especially in the early going, you may need to take over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription-strength pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Physical activity: Especially if you’ve had bariatric surgery, it will be critical to get up and walk around as you recover. However, you also will have to avoid lifting more than 15 to 20 pounds for two to six weeks after treatment. Starting small and working up to being active can shorten recovery time.
  • Restricted diet: After bariatric surgery, you’ll be on an all-liquid or pureed food diet for two to three weeks after treatment. You’ll then gradually and carefully reintroduce soft and then solid foods to your diet and will have to make permanent changes to your eating habits.
  • Changed eating habits: Following weight loss surgery, you will need to become accustomed to having less stomach and digestive capacity. Eating too much or too quickly can make you sick or start vomiting. You’ll need to eat healthy and go slowly, and avoid snacking. Good eating habits will go a long way in sustaining the benefits of treatment.


Bariatric surgery, weight loss surgery, and liposuction can both remove fat from your body, but there are key differences. The former is a set of treatments that involve changing your digestive capacity to promote weight loss in cases of obesity and related conditions. In contrast, the latter is a cosmetic procedure that removes fat content in specific parts of the body.

Each approach has its own set of applications, advantages, and disadvantages, and both may require significant periods and recovery. Though there’s a risk of complications, they’re generally effective in making lasting changes, well-tolerated, and safe.

A Word From Verywell

No matter what, achieving the kind of body you want is challenging. And alongside dietary and lifestyle changes, bariatric surgery and liposuction are among the procedures that can help you get there. For many, these treatments have helped kick-start positive and permanent changes to both mental and physical health.

If you’re struggling with your weight—or are curious about body contouring—talk to a provider to learn more about your options.

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