If you’ve recently received a lipedema diagnosis, you may be searching for more information about this poorly understood condition. Perhaps you’ve only recently learned about this medical problem and are wondering whether you’re a sufferer.
Here, we take a closer look at the health issue known as “painful fat.” We help you to identify the causes and symptoms. We’ll also point you in the right direction of treatments to improve your quality of life.
What is Lipedema?
Lipedema is a medical problem that involves the irregular distribution of fat under the skin. Usually, it affects the legs, hips, and buttocks. Sometimes, though, it can affect the upper arms, too. While lipedema usually starts as a primarily cosmetic problem, over time, it often causes pain and poor mobility.
Unfortunately, it’s also a poorly understood problem. Therefore, even doctors sometimes struggle to diagnose it. It’s frequently mistaken for lymphedema (an entirely different condition), or regular obesity. Yet, doctors believe as many as 11 percent of all women are sufferers.
How is Lipedema Diagnosed?
All too often, doctors diagnose lipedema at a late stage. This is because they lack familiarity with this disease. By the time patients have received a diagnosis, they have often suffered for many years, both physically and emotionally.
The good news is an experienced doctor can diagnose sufferers from a visual checkup. Lipedema has a characteristic body appearance. The legs (and sometimes arms) are usually larger than the trunk of the body. They don’t match the size of the upper body, waist, ankles, and wrists, which are usually slender.
Doctors often palpate the skin, too, to determine whether the patient has lipedema. In the disease’s early stages, the skin feels similar to polystyrene beads. When a patient has reached a later stage, these irregularities have a similar feel to walnut-sized balls. The skin, however, remains soft. If you put pressure on the tissue, a dent will only appear for a short period.
Doctors may also perform a test known as the “paradoxical pinch.” This involves pinching the outside and inside of the patient’s leg. If a patient feels the pain on the outer leg more than the inside, lipedema is most likely.
What Are the Causes of Lipedema?
As yet, doctors are unsure of the causes of lipedema. They do believe that female hormones have a role to play. This is because the disease primarily affects women and because the condition begins or worsens at times of hormonal disturbance. Puberty, pregnancy, menopause, and after gynecological surgery are all key times when lipedema may arise or worsen. Genetics may also have a role to play since many sufferers have family members who also suffer from lipedema.
Progression of the Disease
Lipedema has three stages. Without treatment, sufferers will progress through all of them as time goes on.
- The legs will appear to be disproportionately larger than the sufferer’s upper body.
- Losing weight won’t decrease the amount of fat in the affected areas.
- The fat affects both sides of the body equally.
- Fat pads often appear below and above the knee, making it hard to see their regular shape.
- The feet and ankles have no excess swelling or fat, and the skin looks a normal, healthy color.
- When you apply pressure, the fat causes pain.
- The lipedema fat deposits are also more likely to bruise. Cellulitis and inflammatory processes are also more common.
- While the fat feels soft, it’s different from fat areas of the upper body. You may feel small and evenly dispersed fat nodules.
- The “Stemmer’s Sign” will be negative.
- If you apply pressure, no pitting occurs.
The symptoms of Stage 1 persist. In addition:
- Fatty lumps the size of a fist may appear.
- It’s easy to feel fatty nodes under the skin.
- The skin appears textured, discolored, and uneven.
It may take as long as 17 years for Stage 3 to develop. These changes characterize this stage of the disease:
- Hardened, thick, and discolored skin
- Large lumps of deforming fat develop asymmetrically on the lower body, impeding normal limb movement.
- Lymphedema is present.
What Are the Nonsurgical Treatments for Lipedema?
Conservative lipedema treatments are often the first choice of doctors for sufferers. These include:
- CDT (Comprehensive Decongestive Therapy). This treatment combines manual lymph drainage with skin care and bandaging exercises.
- MLD (Manual Lymphatic Drainage). This rhythmic massage follows the lymph flow direction, which reduces swelling. It helps in the removal of waste products, fluids, debris, and protein particles.
- Compression Garments. Patients must wear these regularly to help maintain and manage the condition.
- Pneumatic Compression Devices. You inflate and deflate these garments intermittently to move the fluid and eliminate it.
- Diet and Exercise. Maintaining a healthy body weight helps to control the symptoms of lipedema.
- Supplements. Some doctors suggest taking bioflavonoids, selenium, Vitamin P, and other supplements to promote lymphatic system strength.
- Breathing Exercises. Targeted breathing exercises can improve lymph fluid circulation.
Is There A Surgical Treatment for Lipedema?
Although there is no cure for lipedema, surgical treatments are the most effective solution. Liposuction removes the fat cells permanently. This slows down or even stops the disease’s progression and reduces the pain associated with the condition. Here at Artlipo, we are experts in performing lipedema liposuction. Dr. Su has helped many patients to improve their quality of life, restore their self-esteem, and reduce their symptoms. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you.