Fat Grafting 101: What You Need To Know

lovely-ladyIf you are like me, you spend hours at the gym trying to get rid of it and you diet to prevent it. You know what I am referring to…“love handles”, “saddle bags”, basically the accumulation of fat on certain areas of our bodies. But without fat, our faces would appear drawn and old, our breasts and butt would droop and our hands would look like skeletons. In other words, fat is a necessity and it has its benefits. In the right location and quantity, it is a sign of youth. I am not recommending you hang up those running shoes, but at the Emory Aesthetic Center, we can reorganize this necessary fat to improve your appearance, address early aging, and make you feel better about yourself. I am referring to a technique called autologous fat transfer or fat grafting. Let me answer some common questions to help you make an informed decision when considering undergoing this procedure.

What is autologous fat grafting and how is it done?

Some refer to it as fat transfer or fat grafting, but the concept is not new and has been reported as early as 1893. Modern fat grafting did not develop however until the 1980’s with the popularity of liposuction. Today, in a fat grafting procedure, fat is harvested from the body by liposuction. The fat is gently prepared for injection back into the body, and then grafted into an area of deficit with small needles or cannulas. The fat is carefully placed in multiple tissue planes so that it receives plenty of oxygen and nutrients so it can develop a new blood supply. The fat that survives provides the soft tissue volume to address areas of need. The fat that does not survive is absorbed.

What are the common sites of fat grafting?

The most common areas for fat transfer are the face, breast, buttocks and hands. In the face, fat transfer can be done alone or combined with chemical peels or excisional techniques such as a facelift. Fat is typically placed in the cheeks, nasolabial folds (smile lines), and even hollowed temples. Very little volume is needed to improve these deficient areas.

Fat can also be used instead of implants to augment the breast or buttocks. These procedures require larger volumes of fat grafts and in some cases, require more than one surgical stage to get the desired result. Fat grafts can also be used to correct lumpectomy deformities after breast cancer treatment and contour irregularities after liposuction. Releasing the scar in these instances and filling the deficiencies with fat grafts is a powerful improvement tool.

What is the recovery?

Recovery after fat grafting alone is generally rapid and may only be prolonged if additional procedures are performed at the same time. As an example, fat grafting to the cheeks alone may result in bruising of the cheeks and minor discomfort at the fat donor site (where the fat was taken), but requires no time away from work. If this is combined with a full facelift, then the recovery may require 2-3 weeks away from work. Recovery is also longer if a larger volume of fat is transferred. For example, a buttock lift where 600cc of grafts are placed will require 2-3 weeks of recovery compared to the fat grafting of 10cc to the cheeks where you return to work in 2-3days. After an isolated fat grafting procedure, you might notice a week or two of swelling, possibly more if the volume of grafts is high. The injected areas will likely be bruised and feel firm. The sites where the fat was taken will follow a similar recovery. The incisions are small so once swelling and bruising improve, you can be back to regular activities in a relatively short time.

Are there any complications?

Complications like infection can occur but are rare with isolated fat grafting. Donor site complications such as bleeding or contour irregularities are also rare. An additional complication is “loss” of the graft. This refers to fat not picking up a blood supply and being absorbed over time. Typically we wait to judge the increase in volume for 3-6months after the procedure to ensure that the fat has survived.

If you look in the mirror, and see fat that you wish were somewhere else, fat grafting may be a great procedure for you. Come meet with one of the board-certified physicians of the Emory Aesthetic Center. We can discuss your goals and see if fat grafting alone or in combination with other procedures is right for you.

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About Dr. Anderson

anderson-ericaErica Anderson, MD, is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and currently holds an appointment as Assistant Professor in the Division of Plastic Surgery at Emory University. Dr. Anderson completed her general surgery residency and plastic surgery residency at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and associated hospitals in Denver, CO. She completed a year of advanced training in Aesthetic Surgery at Grotting Plastic Surgery in Birmingham, Alabama.

Dr. Anderson returns to Emory University after being in private practice in Arlington, Virginia. While there, she maintained a busy aesthetic and reconstructive practice and also served as Medical Director for the Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Center at Virginia Hospital Center.

Dr. Anderson’s academic and research interests are largely focused on clinical outcomes with regards to cosmetic surgery. Her areas of clinical interest are diverse including cosmetic surgery of the breast and body as well chest wall reconstruction and wound care.

Dr. Anderson is married with 3 children, Trent, Connor and Fiona, and 2 vizslas, Max and Mimi.

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