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Fat attack: medics warning after liposuction almost kills woman

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image Denise Hendry died in 2009 as a result of a botched liposuction procedure; the new report from Birmingham covers a case where the consequences were nearly fatal - PA

Medics have issued a warning after a woman’s body was attacked by its own fat following liposuction surgery.

The woman of 45 almost died after suffering the complications, in what is thought to be the first such case in this country.

Fat embolism syndrome (FES) occurs when fat travels through the body and blocks blood vessels.

It can result from conditions such as fractures and pancreatis and caused more rarely by procedures such as hip or knee replacements.

Writing in the journal BMJ Case Reports, experts from the intensive care unit at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust said they treated a 45-year-old woman with FES after she underwent liposuction on her legs.

She was obese but also had lipoedema, in which parts of the body become enlarged due to a build-up of abnormal fat cells.

The surgery had been planned to remove some of the bulk of her lower legs to help her become more mobile and go on to lose weight.

 

obese woman  - Credit: PA
Amid soaring levels of obesity, demand for operations such as liposuction has risen  Credit: PA

 

Around 10 to 13.5 litres of fluid and fat was removed during the surgery, which had gone to plan.

However, the woman became severely ill around 36 hours later, becoming drowsy with difficulty breathing.

Her condition worsened as she was transferred to intensive care where the doctors suspected that she had dangerously low oxygen levels in her body, signalling acute respiratory distress syndrome.

After further tests, the doctors realised that her symptoms pointed to FES.

The woman remained in hospital and was given oxygen and drugs to help with her heart rate and her breathing. She was discharged from hospital after 14 days and on her check up, she had recovered well.

The authors concluded that doctors should be on their guard for signs of FES, especially in patients with other issues such as obesity or fluid retention.

They said: "Liposuction is a procedure that is growing more common worldwide and is being done in higher-risk patient groups with more comorbidities.

 

Mapped England’s obesity hotspots
Mapped England’s obesity hotspots

 

"While generally a safe procedure, it is important to consider the potential of fat embolism syndrome (FES) as a diagnosis in the post-procedure period."

Symptoms of the syndrome can include extreme breathlessness, pain in the chest, fever, rash and a high heart rate. Patients may also suffer disorientation, confusion and seizures, and can go into a coma. Some need life support.

In 2009 when Denise Hendry, the wife of former Scotland footballer Colin Hendry, died as a result of a botched liposuction operation after bacteria spread from her stomach to her brain causing meningitis.

Mrs Hendry, 43, spent seven years fighting illness after the procedure in April 2002. She suffered nine punctures to her bowel during the procedure.

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