Fatal outcomes from liposuction: census survey of cosmetic surgeons

Plast Reconstr Surg. 2000 Jan;105(1):436-46; discussion 447-8. doi: 10.1097/00006534-200001000-00070.


Troubling reports of adverse outcomes after liposuction prompted a census survey of aesthetic plastic surgeons. All 1200 actively practicing North American board-certified ASAPS members were polled by facsimile, then mail, regarding deaths after liposuction. Patient initials together with case summaries precluded data replication yet assured patient anonymity and preserved surgeon privacy. Incomplete returns or ambiguous findings were authenticated, where feasible, by direct follow-up. Total number of lipoplasties performed by plastic surgeons was interpolated from the ASPRS procedure database for the survey time frame of 1994 to mid-1998. Lacking reliable annual case volume estimates, deaths from lipoplasties performed by non-ABPS surgeons were excluded from the actual mortality rate computation but were included in cause-of-death ranking statistics. Responding aesthetic plastic surgeons (917 of 1200) reported 95 uniquely authenticated fatalities in 496,245 lipoplasties. In this census survey, the mortality rate computed to 1 in 5224, or 19.1 per 100,000. A virtually identical 20.3 per 100,000 mortality rate was obtained in a 1997 random survey commissioned by the parent society. Pulmonary thromboembolism remains as the major killer (23.4+/-2.6 percent); lacking consistent medical examiners' toxicology data, the putative role of high-dose lidocaine cardiotoxicity could not be ascertained. Where so stated, many deaths occurred during the first night after discharge home; prudence suggests vigilant observation for residual "hangover" from sedative/anesthetic drugs after lengthy procedures. Taken together, these two independent surveys peg the late 1990s mortality rate from liposuction at about 20 per 100,000, or 1 in every 5000 procedures. Set beside the 16.4 per 100,000 fatality rates of U.S. motor vehicle accidents, liposuction is not an altogether benign procedure. We do not have comparable mortality data for lipoplasties performed by non-ABPS-certified physicians.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Surgical Procedures / mortality
  • Cause of Death*
  • Health Surveys
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Lipectomy / mortality*
  • Postoperative Complications / mortality
  • Risk Factors
  • Survival Analysis
  • United States