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Fat freezing – the risks?

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The risks of ‘fat freezing’ – an increasingly popular cosmetic procedure in the UK, are not being fully explained to people seeking this procedure.

The technique, known scientifically as cryolipolysis, destroys cold-sensitive subcutaneous fat cells by freezing them.

It has become a popular technique for treating what some can regard as problem fat areas that fail to respond to other methods such as exercise.

But a complication called paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH), a hardened lumpy area of localized fat developing after the procedure, has been documented by surgeons in the medical journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

The procedure was approved in the US in 2010 and complications were described in a medical journal in 2017 and again in 2018. Currently in the UK more than 200 beauty clinics offer the service, according to the website Treatwell.

In a small study of 15 patients, researchers found the problem occurred in 1 out of every 138 cryolipolysis treatments. Manufacturer data suggests the risk is 1 in 4,000 cases.

Shoosmiths represent two women in their 30s who developed PAH after fat freezing but were not fully informed of the risks of the treatment. Tania Ardito, medical negligence specialist at our Shoosmiths’ location in Northampton, says that cryolipolysis is marketed as a non-invasive treatment, but the only known solution to PAH, should it occur, is liposuction which is invasive.

She said:

“This technique appeals to many who feel under pressure to look a certain way, especially with the ever-increasing use of social media to promote the accepted standard of beauty, but it is imperative that those who elect to have this treatment have the risks explained to them to be able to make an informed choice.

“It is evident from these cases that people are not being fully informed and are told that these procedures are risk-free, which is clearly not the case. Part of the attraction of 'fat freezing' is that it appears to be both a non-risk and non-invasive treatment, but as can be seen it might make matters worse.”

The complication of PAH tends to occur a few months after the cryolipolysis treatment. It is important that patients follow medical advice and attend regular follow up for at least six months, so that this condition can be identified early on.

Tania Ardito

Pictured above: Tania Ardito, medical negligence specialist at Shoosmiths.

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