Even with an excellent surgeon and meticulous post-operative home care, some patients develop fluid pockets after liposuction. Medically known as seromas, these fluid-filled pockets are common after many different types of surgery where a significant amount of tissue is removed or disturbed. Depending on the study, seromas are known to occur in 3 to 30 percent of liposuction patients, making it a fairly common complication. Fortunately, it is also a benign one that often resolves on its own. Usually no more than a temporary cosmetic concern, large seromas can become a bit tender as they swell and may require medical treatment to keep the patient comfortable.
What Does a Seroma Look Like After Liposuction?
Most of the time seromas appear as small lumps or bumps under the skin. The lump should feel soft and usually remains the same color as the skin around it, but if it is large enough to stretch the skin, a seroma may appear reddish in color.
Seromas can sometimes leak fluid. This fluid is lymph, which is a clear fluid that contains white blood cells. The emphasis here is on “clear”. If the fluid leaking from your drains or incisions is red or greenish in color it could be a sign of an infection rather than a seroma and you should consult with your surgeon. Clear fluid or fluid with a slight yellow tinge, however, is generally not cause for alarm.
Note that a seroma may not appear as a single lump but can present as a series of lumps and bumps. Liposuction can create several voids or spaces beneath the skin, and more than one can fill with fluid.
Why Does Fluid Build Up After Liposuction?
Now that you’ve identified that you may have a seroma, you may be wondering why. You have lymphatic vessels running throughout your body just as you do blood vessels. Some of these lymphatic vessels live within the subcutaneous fat beneath your skin. Even when performed as gently and carefully as possible, liposuction can damage or even remove some of these vessels. This leaves the lymphatic system open until it can heal itself, and the result may be that lymphatic fluid leaks into the empty spaces left behind by the removed fat tissue.
Once it fills a space, it can take some time for a seroma to go away for the same reason. The damage done to the lymphatic system also means that there are fewer vessels available to carry away and drain off any excess lymph. Once the lymph flows into a space, the body has no immediate means of removing it. As a result, a seroma sometimes not only forms but stays longer than we would like.
How Long Does Fluid Build Up After Lipo?
If a fluid pocket is going to occur after liposuction, it typically forms about 5 to 10 days after surgery. It then takes weeks to months for the body to naturally fix a seroma on its own. Most go away within about a month, but the process can take up to a year. Fortunately, your surgeon can help speed up the process of removing a particularly stubborn seroma.
How to Get Rid of Fluid Pockets After Liposuction
The best way to deal with a seroma after liposuction is to prevent it if possible. This means wearing your compression garment as directed by your surgeon. Compression garments can both help prevent fluid accumulation after your surgery and can help you get rid of any seromas that do form. It is a known fact that seromas are more common in patients who don’t wear or frequently remove their compression garment after liposuction.
In an effort to avoid fluid pockets, your surgeon may place drains at your incision site. If so, you will need to keep them clean and possibly document how much fluid comes out of them after surgery. Drains are common after liposuction and easy to care for. Your doctor or surgical team will show you exactly what to do with them before you leave the office after your liposuction procedure.
Seromas are also frequently treated with over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen. These medications don’t eliminate the fluid pocket itself but can ease any pain associated with seroma swelling. These medications coupled with time usually take care of most seromas, which tend to resolve on their own.
When a seroma is persistent or the fluid pocket fairly large, your surgeon can drain it for you. To do so, they will insert a small needle into the space and draw out the lymphatic fluid. In rare cases, a surgeon can go in and surgically remove the seroma and treat the space in which the fluid pocket has accumulated. This is not often necessary, however.