Signs & Symptoms Of Lipedema: Causes, Diagnosis And Treatment

Lipedema is condition of disproportionate accumulation of fat mainly in the buttocks, leg and sometimes in arm. Lipedema is almost exclusive condition found only among women. It is a chronic and painful condition hence it is also called as painful fat syndrome. The bilateral swelling in lower part of body causes emotional distress in majority of women suffering from lipedema. Lipedema is often misdiagnosed as weight gain or lymphedema. The disorder was first described in 1940 by Allen and Hines.

The typical appearance of the women with lipedema is large lower half of the body with tree like disproportion of leg.

The fat completely accumulates in thigh, buttocks, knees, calves and ankles. Feet are spared. The cause of lipedema is not known, but physicians suspect hormones play the role in its development.

It usually begins during puberty and worsens over a period of time. Some women have similar problem in their family hence the condition is also believed to be inherited. No amount of diet or exercise can treat this condition. Decongestive therapy or liposuction are treatment of choice to relieve painful symptoms.

What Are The Causes Of Lipedema?

The exact cause of lipedema still remains eluded.

But doctors believe hormones play some kind of role in the abnormal accumulation of fat under skin in the lower part of body. This they suspect because women are usually affected. The other reason is lipedema begins to develop at the time of puberty or the symptoms of lipedema become worse during puberty, pregnancy or menopause. All the three physiological process in women are completely controlled by hormones.

One other school of thought believes that there is hereditary linkage in development of lipedema. Some women have family members having same disorder. Extreme stress can raise the level of cortisol which may lead to inflammation and cascade of events that may trigger fat accumulation in legs and buttocks.

What Does Lipedema Look Like?

Lipedema is less talked about condition as it is often misdiagnosed as obesity and lymphedema. Almost more than 17 million people are affected by this disorder in United States. Vast majority of them are women. The disorder usually begins during puberty, pregnancy or menopuase. The most significant symptom of lipedema is gaining or accumulation of fat under the skin in thigh, buttocks, calf and sometimes in arm.

Patient has disproportionate large sized legs and buttocks as compared to upper body. The legs appear as column or a tree. Usually there is cuffing around the ankles and feet are spared from fat deposition. Lumps and cellulite are common. In mild form the arms do not become enlarged but in advanced stage the arms are also affected.

Over a period of time, the accumulated fat can block the lymph vessels resulting in buildup of fluid and lymph edema. Patient may also suffer from pain and easy bruising. As lipedema advances it increases weight in lower extremity. This leads to joint damage in hip and knee. Patient may have alteration in his gait due to excess of weight.

Diagnosis And Treatment Of Lipedema

Diagnosis of lipedema is usually made from the clinical symptoms. For a physician medical history and physical examination are enough to suspect the disorder. Symmetric enlarged legs with deposits of fat in buttocks and thigh, family history of lipedema, pain in the area of palpation and spontaneous frequent bruising are enough to suggest lipedema. It differs from obesity. In obesity the BMI is more whereas BMI can be normal in person with lipedema. Blood tests are performed to exclude certain diseases such as hypothyroidism cardiac and renal diseases.

Lipedema does not reduce with dieting and exercising. However, patient must follow these things as it helps to reduce overall weight as well as help in reducing inflammation. Lipedema can occur in thin as well as obese people. The standard therapy of lipedema is decongestive lymphatic therapy (DLT). This involves manual lymphatic drainage, compression bandage, exercise and skin care. Liposuction is surgical treatment that is also useful in lipedema.

Patient must also avoid foods that increase inflammation. Patient must avoid meat, vegetable oils, foods with high glycemic index, processed foods, sugar based products etc. Recommended diet includes fish, fruits, vegetables, olives, quinoa, brown rice, peas and beans, organically grown foods, etc.