Lipedema is a chronic disease with abnormal fat deposits. This mainly occurs in your legs, but it can also affect your arms.
Lipedema can also cause considerable physical discomfort and chronic pain. Sometimes it is mistaken for cellulite even though it is another condition that is more serious and persistent. However, you can work with your doctor to manage the condition with treatment.
Read on to learn more about lipedema, how to talk to your doctor about it, and what treatments can help.
Lipedema builds up abnormal amounts of fatty tissue, usually on both legs and in some cases on your arms. Your skin can be tender, puffy, and spongy. Bruising is common and chronic pain is not uncommon.
The Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center says that symptoms of lipedema typically begin during puberty, pregnancy, or menopause. Symptoms can vary and include:
- abnormal fat deposits
- easy bruising
- loose skin
The fat deposits often get worse over time, but some people have stable lipedema. In the early stages of the disease, above your waistline, your body doesn’t have many changes. As the disease progresses, these areas of your body can also get larger:
People with lipedema can also experience depression, coping difficulties, and impaired quality of life.
The exact cause of lipedema is currently unknown. There is a genetic component is believed to be, as a 2020 research report found that up to
It is believed that genetic factors combined with hormonal, microvascular, and lymphatic disorders can contribute to lipedema.
More research is needed to find out the exact causes of lipedema.
The diagnosis of lipedema is made based on a variety of factors. Reported symptoms and clinical exams are a big part of the diagnostic process, and various tests may also be ordered to confirm or investigate the diagnosis. These tests can include:
Other conditions may need to be investigated to make sure the lipedema is the correct diagnosis. Various imaging methods can be helpful here.
The main criteria for diagnosing lipedema are:
- bilateral, symmetrical display of abnormal fat deposits that do not affect your feet
- persistent enlargement of the lower limbs, even with weight loss
- little to no pitting edema
- Pain and light bruising
- loose skin
Treatment for lipedema usually focuses on addressing symptoms, preventing their progression, and improving mobility and quality of life. The degree and extent of treatment will depend on how far the lipedema has progressed and how much suffering it is causing. Treatment can be conservative or more intensive.
Conservative treatment options
- Manual lymph drainage. These massage therapy techniques may be needed on a regular basis to reduce swelling and discomfort.
- Compression therapy. This therapy, sometimes performed by wearing custom compression garments, can help relieve pain and discomfort.
- Physiotherapy and exercise therapy. Water aerobics is particularly helpful because of the low pressure on the joints, and water pressure helps with lymphatic drainage.
- Psychosocial Therapy. Counseling can help you manage the effects of the disease and related conditions such as eating disorders
- Nutritional advice and weight management. People with lipedema are at risk of morbid obesity, which makes lipedema severe. But anti-inflammatory diets can help.
- Patient education. Educating people with lipedema about the condition and its treatments can help them manage the condition, make informed decisions, and seek help when needed.
When conservative treatments don’t help lipedema and contribute to a negative quality of life, liposuction may be an option. There are several factors that you and your doctor will consider before making a decision as to whether it is appropriate treatment and insurance may not always cover it.
In advanced stages of lipedema, especially comorbid lymphedema, liposuction is not effective. Surgical debulking may be required. This is called a dermato-fibro-lipectomy.
The origins of lipedema are still being investigated, but there are some risk factors that are thought to be related to lipedema. she
- be female
- Have family members with lipedema, especially first-degree relatives
- going through puberty or being pregnant (the hormone changes)
It is important to note that the stress from persistent racism, discrimination, and other racist systems can play a role in the development of lipedema beyond genetic factors.
Lipedema can be misdiagnosed as obesity or other medical conditions. Early and accurate diagnosis is critical to adequate treatment.
Early diagnosis is important because then lipedema can best be treated with more conservative approaches. With a multidisciplinary treatment team, the outlook is good. It is important that your medical team consists of:
- Doctors of vascular medicine
- Obesity specialists
- Plastic surgeon
Although there is currently no cure, lipedema can be treated and symptoms minimized.
Lipedema can be uncomfortable, even painful and distressing, and not only cause physical symptoms, but also affect emotional health and quality of life.
Lipedema is not a curable condition, but there are ways to manage symptoms, slow the progression of the disease, and improve overall health, all of which can affect lipedema.