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Non-invasive Options for Melting Away Abdominal Fat

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Patients can lose up to four inches in the abdomen, love handles and thighs after undergoing new fat-melting procedures.
  • Patients can lose up to four inches in the abdomen, love handles and thighs after undergoing new fat-melting procedures.

For fat that's resistant to diet and exercise, and for people who don't want liposuction, there's new, fat-melting technology that gets patients in and out of the doctor's office and back to work in an hour.

  Until she learned of the new technology, Jeanne Boughton had never had any body-enhancing cosmetic procedures. "(I have) genetic pockets (of fat)... as a result of child bearing," Boughton says.

  At 42, Boughton eats well and walks, but can no longer jog as she did in college at LSU because of a knee injury. Boughton turned to dermatologists Drs. Deirdre Hooper and Sarah Jackson for a quick fix. With two children and a busy real estate broker's job that pays solely on commission, she couldn't afford any downtime, so this new technology was very appealing.

  "I have to go to work this afternoon, so I can't be in a hospital room recovering from any type of invasive procedure," Boughton says. "(This procedure) is non-invasive, and I trust Deirdre and Sarah."

  The procedure, Liposonix, uses high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) to melt fat. "One treatment, one hour, one dress size smaller," says Dr. Hooper, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at LSU Health Sciences Center with a private Uptown practice. Only a handful of men and women have been treated at the clinic so far. It takes three months to see final results, but patients can see a difference in four to six weeks.

  "I got a text this morning from a patient who had measured her waist and had a two-inch decrease already," Hooper says. "That was exciting."

  During the procedure, fat is heated and destroyed at a precise layer below the skin. What's left is metabolized away. In studies, the blood fat levels did not rise. This is not a treatment for obesity or weight loss. It is more for body contouring and to decrease inches.

  "The average person does lose one inch, but some people in the studies lost up to four inches," Hooper says.

  "The most common complications are bruising, swelling and tenderness in the area," says Jackson, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at LSU Health Sciences Center. "All of these (symptoms) were rated as mild by the patients in the clinical studies."

  Right now, Liposonix is only FDA-approved for the abdomen area and the love handles, but doctors are also using it on the inner thighs, outer thighs, hips and buttocks.

  Zeltiq, a fat freezing procedure, also reduces inches, and so do devices that use radio frequency to reduce fat, such as Exilis. Some patients may wonder which is best for them.

  "Unfortunately, none of these devices have been tested against each other," says Metairie dermatologist Dr. Patricia Farris, the national spokeswoman for the American Academy of Dermatology. "Is one necessarily better than the other? The answer is we really don't know."

  Advocates for Liposonix boast that it takes only one hour and one treatment, but it does cause bruising and is more expensive. Exilis costs less, tightens skin and doesn't cause bruising but takes three to four treatments. Zeltiq takes longer in the office.

  "You're going to see more discomfort with Liposonix, more treatments with the Exilis and a (more) limited area with the Zeltiq," says New Orleans dermatologist Dr. Mary Lupo.

  While Lupo has had success and patient satisfaction with Exilis, Jackson likes the new Liposonix technology.

  "Ultrasound has a clear advance here in that with the ability to focus ... at 1.3 centimeters below the surface of the skin and create heat only at that level, you can destroy the adipose (fat) tissue without damaging the upper layers of the skin or the deeper layers below," Jackson says.

  Patients who want Liposonix must be able to pinch an inch of fat. It can't be used over scars, and for patients who have had liposuction, the results might not be as dramatic. Patients with abdominal hernias can't have the treatment.

  "The exciting thing is we now have three options that we know work to reduce fat in the patient who ... is not a liposuction candidate," Lupo says. Liposonix costs roughly $3,000 depending on the size of the area treated. Only one treatment is necessary. Four treatments are recommended for best results with Exilis. The total cost for all the treatments runs around $1,400. For Zeltiq, the cost is $1,500 to treat one area of the body.

 "I don't think you're going to lose a whole dress size or a whole 10 or 15 pounds in one session with any device," Farris says. "I do think that if you follow a diet and exercise (program) and use these devises just to contour, that they have a place in body contouring."

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