If you’re experiencing lipedema symptoms, you may wonder how to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, getting an accurate diagnosis of lipedema isn’t always easy. Most people still have never heard of this condition. Medical professionals often remain unaware of it or confuse it with similar conditions. It isn’t surprising that so many sufferers wait between 15 and 18 years to get a diagnosis.
One of the problems with getting a correct diagnosis of lipedema is that there is no specific test. Whereas there are blood tests and scans to confirm other diseases, lipedema has none. Therefore, diagnosis relies heavily on the doctor’s understanding, knowledge, and experience.
What Is Lipedema?
Lipedema is a fat-related disorder involving abnormal fat accumulation on the lower body. Lipedema is a progressive disease; it worsens over time. The disease goes through four stages as it develops, and each stage is more severe than the one before it.
People know little about lipedema, but experts believe its possible causes include genetics and hormones. Usually, only women develop this disease, and around 11% of women may have it worldwide. Some men develop lipedema, but they usually have underlying conditions such as hormonal imbalances.
Lipedema can affect different sufferers in different ways. Usually, it primarily affects the lower limbs. Abnormal fat accumulates on the legs, hips, and buttocks. Sometimes, patients find their arms develop abnormal fat too. The fat is painful to the touch and bruises easily. It’s also very heavy and bulky, so it eventually causes mobility issues. Of course, it changes the body shape of the sufferer too. Their lower body is far larger than their upper body. That disproportionate appearance causes low self-confidence and poor self-esteem. Over time, mental health problems like anxiety and depression can arise. Patients can also develop comorbidities like hypertension and diabetes to compound their problems.
Is There a Biomarker for Lipedema?
Recently, experts discovered a biomarker for lipedema. Biomarker Pf4 enables experts to detect the difference between obesity and lymphatic disorders like lipedema. This discovery only has limited use at present, though. It cannot necessarily pinpoint the existence of lipedema itself, only determine that a sufferer doesn’t have obesity. There is also no specific test available as yet for this biomarker, and knowledge about it isn’t widespread.
What Signs of Lipedema Do Doctors Look For?
Several key symptoms indicate a patient may have lipedema. Specialist doctors look for:
- Fat that is tender or painful to the touch
- Nodular skin with a texture similar to grains of rice or peas
- An uneven skin surface with dimpling
- A cool skin temperature
- Heavy, tired legs
- Symmetrical swelling in the affected areas
- Easy bruising of the affected limbs
- A disproportionately larger lower body than the upper body (often by several sizes)
- Visible veins on the legs
- Unaffected hands and feet with cuffs of fat at the wrists and ankles
One problem with these symptoms is that some of them mimic those of other diseases. Swelling, for example, is easy to mistake for lipedema. Also, sometimes the symptoms aren’t obvious until a later stage of the disease. Doctors with limited knowledge of lipedema cannot spot the critical signs until the condition is advanced. Many patients suffer for years without the help and treatment they need.
Do Doctors Do Any Diagnostic Tests for Lipedema?
There are some diagnostic tests that doctors may arrange for patients that they believe have lipedema. These tests don’t actually diagnose the disease, though. Instead, they just rule out other disorders.
Some potential tests for lipedema include:
- Stemmer’s Sign. This test rules out the presence of lymphedema.
- Venous Doppler Ultrasound. This test rules out venous insufficiency.
- Lymphoscintigraphy. This test rules out lymphedema in more complex cases.
Not all doctors will offer all or indeed any of these tests. Most specialists simply rely on observing the patient’s symptoms to give an accurate diagnosis.
How Do I Get a Diagnosis?
If you believe you have lipedema, getting an accurate diagnosis is critical to getting effective treatment. The first step is to be aware of your symptoms. Keep a close eye on the symptoms you experience and look into any related conditions to rule them out. Once you’ve done this, the next step is to find an expert who is a specialist in the field. It’s best to avoid going to your family doctor for help. Very few of them understand lipedema and struggle to diagnose it, especially at an early stage. It’s, therefore, best to seek out a specialist. Getting a diagnosis as early as possible is crucial to get effective treatment.
A specialist can also offer you lipedema surgery, whatever stage the disease is at. Surgery can elevate your quality of life while reducing your lipedema symptoms. Contact Dr. Su at ArtLipo today to arrange a consultation.
Dr. Hamwi is an aesthetic plastic surgeon specializing in cosmetic surgical and non-invasive procedures. After completing residencies in both plastic surgery and general surgery as well as a fellowship at Harvard University, Dr. Hamwi then went on to pursue an aesthetic surgery fellowship at one of the country’s most competitive programs in Manhattan, New York. Less than one percent of plastic surgeons have completed such specialized training.