Arterial Embolism After Facial Fat Grafting: A Systematic Literature Review

Aesthetic Plast Surg. 2023 Dec;47(6):2771-2787. doi: 10.1007/s00266-023-03511-y. Epub 2023 Aug 10.


Background: While autologous fat grafting of the face is considered a generally safe procedure, severe complications such as arterial embolism (AE) have been reported.

Objective: To summarize data on injection-related visual compromise, stroke, and death caused by arterial embolism after facial fat transplantation.

Materials and methods: Plastic surgery societies were contacted for reports on AE after autologous facial fat injection. In addition, a systematic literature review was performed. Data extracted included study design, injection site/technique, symptoms, management, outcome, and etiology.

Results: 61 patients with a mean age of 33.56 ± 11.45 years were reported. Injections targeted the glabella or multiple facial regions (both n = 16/61, 26.2%) most commonly, followed by injections in the temples (n = 10/61, 16.4%) and the forehead (n = 9/61, 14.8%). The mean volume injected was 21.5 ± 21.5 ml. Visual symptoms were described most frequently (n = 24/58, 41.4%) followed by neurological symptoms (n = 20/58, 34.5%), or both (n = 13/58, 22.4%). Ophthalmic artery (OA, n = 26/60, 43.3%), anterior or middle cerebral artery (CA, n = 11/60, 18.3%) or both (n = 14/60, 23.3%) were most frequently occluded. Outcome analysis revealed permanent vision loss in all patients with OA occlusion (n = 26/26, 100%), neurological impairment in most patients with CA occlusion (n = 8/10, 80%), and vision loss in most patients suffering from both OA and CA occlusion (n = 7/11, 63.6%). Six patients died following embolisms.

Conclusions: AE causes severe complications such as blindness, stroke, and death. Due to a lack of high-quality data, no evidence-based treatment algorithms exist. To increase patient safety, a database collecting cases and complications should be established.

Level of evidence iii: This journal requires that authors assign a level of evidence to each article. For a full description of these Evidence-Based Medicine ratings, please refer to the Table of Contents or the online Instructions to Authors .

Keywords: Arterial embolism; Facelift; Facial plastic surgery; Lipografting; Liposuction; Vascular complication.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue* / transplantation
  • Adult
  • Blindness
  • Embolism* / etiology
  • Face* / surgery
  • Forehead / surgery
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stroke / etiology
  • Tissue Transplantation* / adverse effects
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult