PhotoPlastic surgeons have wasted no time in putting a newly-approved "fat eating" drug to work. The drug, called deoxycholic acid or Kybella, physically destroys the fat cells when injected into tissue. It won FDA approval earlier this year.

Doctors at the University of Texas (UT)Southwestern Medical Center have begun using it as a way to eliminate what is often referred to as a double chin. The FDA approval has cleared its way for use as a non-surgical option.

But a drug that “eats” fat seems like a chronic dieter's dream, almost too good to be true.

“Kybella is identical to a deoxycholic acid, which is naturally produced by the body to absorb fat,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kenkel, professor and interim chairman of plastic surgery, at UT Southwestern. 

Kenkel has recently begun performing the procedure in Dallas.

“Kybella takes advantage of that fat-destroying activity to help eliminate the fat below the chin,” he said. “This provides a new option to consider for those who are not ready for a surgical fix, but are looking for an answer as to how to get rid of fat beneath the chin.”

Outpatient procedure

The procedure is performed on an outpatient basis. A patient receives as many as 30 injections into the fat below the chin in a single treatment. Most patients, however, receive as many as four treatments to get the desired results.

FDA guidelines require the treatments to be done at least one month apart. Kenkel says the number of treatments depends on the amount of fat and other factors determined during a consultation.

Liposuction and surgery remain options but Kenkel says the drug treatment is effective for someone with moderate to severe fat below the chin.

When the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery polled consumers recently, it found 68% were concerned about having a double chin. More than half said they were considering surgery.

Surgery averse

“We will likely see a different patient type seeking treatment with Kybella,”said Dr. Bardia Amirlak, an assistant professor at UT Southwestern. “Those averse to surgery, including more men, will likely be interested in this new non-surgical treatment for the double chin.”

According to the physicians, Kybella is not intended for other chin related issues such as sagging skin or “turkey neck,” which may be addressed through other treatments - nor has it been approved for reducing fat in other areas of the body.

While Kybella doesn't involve surgery, if it's successful then surgery might be needed. That's because once excess fat is removed, patients may still need to consider removing excess skin.

Neck lift

A more traditional plastic surgery procedure like a neck lift can remove skin as well as fat beneath the chin, a procedure known as a lower rhytidectomy. The procedure can remove excess fat, skin relaxation in the lower face that creates jowls, and excess fatty deposits under the chin - as well as tighten loose neck skin and fix muscle banding in the neck.

Like any drug, Kybella can have side effects. The most common are swelling, bruising, pain, numbness, redness, and areas of hardness in the treatment area.

More serious side effects can include nerve injury in the jaw that can cause an uneven smile or facial muscle weakness, as well as trouble swallowing.


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