Whether you’ve received a diagnosis or suspect you have the condition, you may wonder what triggers lipedema. This poorly understood condition affects around 11% of women around the world. Nevertheless, many doctors still struggle to diagnose sufferers correctly. Some of the symptoms of lipedema mimic those of obesity. Therefore, many women with lipedema receive a diagnosis of obesity that delays their treatment by years. As the condition is not well-known, patients often lack knowledge about their diagnosis. They don’t know what causes lipedema, how it will affect them, or how to treat it. Here, we answer some of those questions.
What Is Lipedema?
Lipedema is a progressive condition characterized by the abnormal build-up of diseased fat. Typically, this fat accumulates on the lower body, causing a disproportionate appearance. Sufferers usually have a small upper body and a much larger lower body. Over time, the condition gets worse. Initially, sufferers may experience column-like legs, bruising and tenderness of the lower limbs, and small pearl-like nodules under the skin. Eventually, though, these symptoms become more severe. Large nodules begin to form under the skin, and these turn into lobules that hang from the body. These have a deforming effect on the physique. Sufferers also become progressively less mobile and experience more pain. Their emotional and mental health also suffers, and they tend to experience low self-esteem and poor self-confidence.
As yet, experts don’t fully know what causes lipedema. However, experts who have spent time researching the condition have some ideas.
It’s very likely that lipedema is an inherited condition. Research has shown that around 60% of sufferers have a family member who suffers too. If your mother, grandmother, sister, or aunt is affected, you may well be a sufferer yourself. In fact, researchers have recently discovered a lipedema gene called aldo-keto reductase. This discovery points towards a clear genetic link.
Experts believe that hormones have a pivotal role to play in the development of lipedema. The reasoning behind this is that almost every sufferer is biologically female. Although there are some male sufferers, they suffer from hormonal imbalances. Therefore, experts suspect that hormones are an essential component.
Estrogen affects the way in which the body metabolizes fat. Potentially, the cause of lipedema is differences in the number of estrogen receptors on the lower body’s subcutaneous fat. Alternatively, it may be due to decreased signals in the estrogen receptors.
Usually, the first signs and symptoms of lipedema appear during puberty. In some cases, they appear at a later stage during another hormonal event, such as pregnancy. The condition usually worsens at times of hormonal upheaval too. If women undergo gynecological surgery, for example, or go through menopause, their symptoms tend to become more severe.
The aldo-keto reductase gene is responsible for metabolizing progesterone, so hormones could definitely play a role in the condition. Progesterone and estrogen both affect the deposition of fat in the body’s subcutaneous tissues. If an individual has an aldo-keto reductase deficiency, there would be more progesterone in their subcutaneous tissues. Progesterone reverses estradiol’s weight reduction actions. Therefore, if there is more progesterone in the body, the individual will probably gain fat.
An Impaired Lymphatic System
Another potential trigger for lipedema is an impaired lymphatic system. Experts have found that people with lipedema have increased platelet factor 4 levels. These are a marker of poor lymphatic function and inflammation. Lipedema patients have poor lymphatic function, and this causes excess fat to build up.
Can Lipedema Be Treated?
At the present time, there is no cure for lipedema. There are treatment options available, however. Patients can choose from both conservative and surgical options. Many doctors suggest that patients begin with conservative treatments. These include manual lymphatic drainage, wearing compression garments, exercising regularly, and eating a special diet. This conservative approach can help to relieve some of the symptoms of lipedema temporarily. It cannot address the cause of the problem, though.
Surgery for lipedema is the only way to address the diseased fat. The surgical solution involves liposuction. Although liposuction has a clear association with cosmetic treatments, it’s also an effective medical treatment for lipedema. It permanently removes the diseased fat from the affected areas. As a result, the patient experiences improved mobility and experiences less pain after the procedure.
Liposuction also restores a more proportionate appearance to the lower body. Therefore, patients often experience better self-esteem and greater self-confidence afterward and enjoy a better quality of life. Liposuction also produces long-lasting results. Most patients find that the benefits of their treatment last for many years.
Although lipedema has no cure, surgery is the next best thing for sufferers at the present time.
If you are interested in a surgical treatment for lipedema, contact Dr. Su at ArtLipo today. As an expert in the field of liposuction, Dr. Su regularly treats patients with lipedema. He produces excellent results, helping sufferers to enjoy an improved quality of life.
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.