WHAT IS LIPEDEMA?
You’ve probably seen someone with lipedema. You may even know someone who has it, but have been unaware of their disease. Lipedema is a chronic condition that causes the accumulation of fat most often in the lower part of the body. However it can also occur in the upper arms. It is a condition that almost exclusively occurs in women. Lidpedmea is often confused with obesity and frequently misdiagnosed. Women with lipedema may also suffer from easy bruising, sensitivity to touch and pain. Commonly, there will be a disproportionate distribution of fat with a smaller upper body and a larger lower body. Mayo Clinic first reported this disease in 1940, but the condition still remains largely misunderstood and under-diagnosed.
The exact cause of this condition is unknown and it may be that it has many causes. Heredity seems to be a major factor in this disease. Family history of lipedema is often noted and potential genes associated with the condition have been recently identified. Female hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy and perimenopause also seem to play a role in this condition. Other hormones, such as insulin and thyroid hormones may also be involved.
LIPEDEMA OR LYMPHEDEMA?
Lipedema and lymphedema are two distinct and different conditions. It’s important to understand and differentiate between the two in order to best treat the condition. Lipedema is primarily a fat based disorder, while lymphedema is primarily a fluid-based disorder. However, they do have a relationship to one another and one condition can lead to the other. This is why it is not uncommon for someone with lipedema to develop lymphedema as well.
Lipedema is bilateral and symmetrical, while lymphedema can be unilateral. When lymphedema is bilateral the legs will not be the same size. The feet are not affected with edema in lipedema, but they often are in lymphedema. Infections, like cellulitis, are more common in lymphedema than they are in lipedema. Furthermore, pain and sensitivity are usually not associated with lipedema. It can become confusing when both lipedema and lymphedema are present, so proper diagnosis by a knowledgeable medical provider can be helpful to guide treatment.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Weight gain connected to hormonal change is often associated with Lipedema. Early stages may not have any symptoms other than what looks like cellulite. As the disease progresses the signs and symptoms become more obvious. Some of the signs associated with this are:
- A buildup of fatty tissue in the legs and sometimes in the upper arms
- Disproportion in shape, with a narrow waist and larger hips and thighs
- Fatty tissue stops at ankles or wrist not affecting the hands or feet
- Pain and discomfort in the affected limbs
- Affected area feels different, cooler, softer and can appear dimpled like an orange or mattress.
- Limited mobility from the buildup of fatty tissue and the feeling of heaviness in the legs.
- Joint pain, especially in the knees, is also common.
MANAGEMENT AND TREATMENT
Although there is no cure at this time, there are ways to manage and treat it. One of the most effective treatments is complete decongestive therapy (CDT). Compression garments can help to reduce pain and discomfort in the limbs. They can also improve mobility and support the tissue of the limbs. Patients may benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet and/or a ketogenic diet. Exercise and movement can help maintain your weight and keep your joints limber.
Conservative measures can usually treat lipedema. In some cases surgery may be an option. Liposuction can be used to remove inflamed fat cells. This procedure will help return balance to the proportion of affected limbs. It can also reduce or eliminate symptoms. If you decide to pursue this method, make sure you seek out a professional who specializes in this disease.
Dealing with lipedema can be challenging and confusing. Self-education is of utmost importance when dealing with this condition. While researching for this article, I came across a wonderful organization called, Lipedema Simplified. Catherine Seo, PhD, who herself deals with this condition, founded this organization. On this website, you will find answers to your questions regarding this condition as well as a group of loving and supportive people dedicated to eliminating the stigma attached to this disease.
Disclaimer – This blog is for general information purposes only. Furthermore, information contained in this blog is not a substitute for medical advice – always consult a licensed healthcare professional for advice on your specific condition.