A Brazilian butt lift (BBL) is a dangerous cosmetic procedure. This is primarily because of fat embolisms, which occur when fat gets into the bloodstream and blocks circulation.

During a BBL, a doctor removes fat from other parts of the body and puts it into the buttocks, making them appear larger. For example, they might remove fat from the stomach and graft it onto the buttocks.

Although BBLs are increasingly popular, they involve a high risk procedure.

This is because BBL puts a person at risk for a fat embolism. While the incidence of this is less than 1%, it is still a very dangerous complication that can be fatal.

Knowing the signs of fat embolism after BBL can save a person’s life. If someone experiences dizziness, shortness of breath, trouble breathing, weakness, or other symptoms of fat embolism, they should seek immediate medical attention.

Read on to learn more about the signs of fat embolism after BBL.

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An embolus is a foreign object in the bloodstream. A fat embolism occurs when fat gets into the bloodstream.

In many cases, the fat gets into small blood vessels and does not cause serious complications. However, when it gets into larger blood vessels, especially those leading to the heart or lungs, it can cause life threatening complications.

For example, fat that travels to the lungs can cause a pulmonary embolism. This can make it difficult to breathe and may damage the lungs and other organs.

Fat embolism is fatal in 7–10% of cases, but prompt medical care can greatly reduce the risk of dying from a fat embolism.

The symptoms of fat embolism vary from person to person. Symptoms can come and go, but if they disappear, it does not necessarily mean the embolism is gone. Therefore, it is important to seek medical care for any symptoms, even if people feel better.

Some common signs include:

  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • trouble breathing
  • wheezing
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • unexplained headache
  • seizure
  • agitation, anxiety, or confusion
  • a rash
  • ruptured blood vessels in the eyes
  • signs of low oxygen, such as blue lips or fingertips
  • rapid breathing

Usually, a fat embolism after a BBL occurs soon after the procedure. In most cases, they begin within 48 hours after surgery, but they may develop right away.

However, in theory, the fat could break loose at any time. This is especially true if a surgeon does not perform the procedure correctly or implants large volumes of fat deep in the muscle tissue. A person should seek emergency care for any signs of an embolism, even if it has been weeks or months since the surgery.

Fat embolisms occur when fat enters the bloodstream. Although the most common reason is a traumatic injury, such as a broken bone, BBL surgery can also cause them.

A 2017 study surveyed included data from 692 surgeons who reported data on nearly 200,000 BBL surgeries. In total, the surgeons reported 32 fatal and 103 nonfatal embolisms.

According to the study, 7% of doctors reported at least one fat embolism. And the risk was much higher when surgeons injected fat into the deep muscle.

Additionally, fat embolism is the leading cause of death from BBL surgery. The Multi-Society Task Force for Safety in Gluteal Fat Grafting (MSTFSGFG) suggests the death rate from gluteal fat grafting may be as high as 1 in 3,000, with the primary cause of death due to fat embolisms.

A person is more likely to develop a fat embolism if a surgeon injects the fat into the muscle. For this reason, MSTFSGFG recommends only injecting fat into the space directly under the skin.

The best strategy for preventing a fat embolism from a BBL is to not have the procedure.

People who still want to have a BBL should choose a licensed, experienced surgeon who is knowledgeable about the procedure and its associated risks. During the consultation, a person can ask the surgeon to only graft the fat under the skin — not into the muscle or deep muscle.

Additionally, it is important to note that many of the images people may see on social media are unrealistic and do not represent a safe or attainable result. If a person has a BBL, they will likely have a more moderate augmentation.

The surgeon should be able to answer questions about specific strategies they use to reduce the risk of embolism and other complications.

A fat embolism is a medical emergency requiring immediate attention. A person should not self-diagnose, wait for symptoms to go away, or wait several hours before seeking medical care.

If someone experiences shortness of breath, chest pain, trouble breathing, dizziness, or any signs of severe illness after surgery, they should immediately go to the emergency room. They should tell the doctor about their symptoms and surgical and medical history.

A fat embolism is a medical emergency that requires prompt care. Although rare, it is more common with BBL than with any other cosmetic procedure. It is also the leading cause of death from BBL surgery.

People considering BBL should weigh the risks and benefits. If they choose to go forward with surgery, they should ask a surgeon for references and about the specific strategies they use to prevent serious complications.

An individual who experiences signs or symptoms of an embolism should always seek emergency care.