WHY ARE MY LEGS SO FAT?
Do your legs seem disproportionately large compared to the rest of your body? If you bent over at the waist, would your bottom half be significantly more significant than the top half of your body? Do you have what some people would call a pear-shaped figure? Are your legs thick and column-like without much definition at the knees? Do your feet appear average size like the weight stops at your ankles? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a disease called lipedema. Even though lipedema affects 11% of the adult female population in the US, it is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood.
LIPEDEMA AWARENESS MONTH
June is lipedema awareness month. It’s a disease that has long been ignored or dismissed as a weight problem. Lipedema is a chronic disease that causes fatty tissue buildup, leading to swelling, discomfort, and pain. The fat tissue that accumulates with lipedema is different from regular fat. Lipedema is associated with a buildup of subcutaneous adipose tissue. This type of fat tissue is found between the skin and muscle tissue and is not sensitive to metabolic change.
Lipedema cannot be cured, but it can be managed with the right kind of care. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to manage lipedema effectively. Unfortunately, lipedema is a disease that is commonly misdiagnosed as obesity. How can you tell the difference between the two, and how can we bring more awareness to this disease?
LIPEDEMA OR OBESITY?
Even though it may be challenging to separate obesity from lipedema, there are some different characteristics that we can look for. Firstly, lipedema almost exclusively occurs in women, whereas obesity occurs in both men and women. Secondly, it is often associated with hormonal changes in women, where obesity can develop anytime. Furthermore, obesity usually affects the entire body, while lipedema usually symmetrically affects the legs and sometimes the arms. In addition, pain and easy bruising is associated with lipedema but is not often seen in obesity. Finally, dieting and exercise seem to have little or no effect on lipedema, which is not the obesity case.
GETTING A DIAGNOSIS
There is no specific test or tool to diagnose lipedema. Undeniably, this can make getting a proper diagnosis challenging at times. The lack of awareness in the medical profession and society makes it even more difficult. Therefore, it is essential to advocate for your health. Learn as much as you can and seek expert guidance when available.
Your medical history and a physical exam are the primary elements of diagnosis for lipedema. This may be enough to determine if you have lipedema. However, your healthcare professional may need further information. Any other underlying disease may first have to be ruled out. A few diagnostic tools can help determine if other factors are playing into the cause of your symptoms. Ultrasound scans and lymphography, which use radiocontrast agents to visualize your lymphatic system under X-ray, are a couple of methods that can help.
Depending on the severity of the disease, your healthcare professional may refer you to a specialized clinic for treatment. Clinics for lymphedema and lipedema have the advantage of being more familiar with the disease and the treatment of the disease.
Regarding chronic diseases like lipedema, depression can also be an issue. You may feel isolated and alone in your struggle. However, many resources are available, including resources on the internet, to help support and guide you. One of my favorite support groups for lipedema is “Lipedema Simplified,” which you can find on our lymphedema resource page. There are also many groups on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
Because June is lipedema awareness month, I wanted to do my part to bring more awareness and insight into this disease, often mistaken for simple fat or obesity. You may not just be “big-boned” or “pear-shaped,” you may have a chronic lipedema disease. There are ways to manage this disease, and there are people who can help and support you. Reach out. You are not alone!
Please note these recommendations are to serve as guidelines only. I recommend consulting with your lymphedema therapist and doctor if you have any concerns or questions about safety in the summer heat.