Lipedema is a chronic condition that has no known cure. It almost exclusively affects women. There are some rare cases of it affecting men. Lipedema is when there is abnormal fat buildup in the lower part of your body. It usually affects the buttocks and the legs.
There are 5 different types depending on where your symptoms are.
- Type one the fat buildup is between your belly button and hips.
- Type two the fat buildup is between the pelvis and knees.
- Type three the fat buildup is between the pelvis and ankles.
- Type four fat buildup occurs between the shoulders and wrists.
- Type five the fat buildup is between the knees and the ankles.
The exact cause of lipedema is unknown, but it tends to worsen in different situations when hormones become unbalanced. Lipedema worsens it seems during puberty, pregnancy, after a gynecologic surgery, or during menopause.
The main symptom of lipedema is fat buildup that occurs equally on both sides of the body. The fat buildup usually happens in the butt, thighs, calves, and sometimes the upper arms. It never happens on the hands and feet.
Other symptoms are bumps of fat that make it feel like something is under your skin, pain that can range from mild to severe, heavy feeling in the legs, swelling that worsens in the afternoon or evening, skin that bruises easily, fatigue, varicose veins, difficulty walking, and flat feet.
Lipedema can cause fluid blockages that prevent lymph fluid from draining properly which can lead to you developing lymphedema. Some people who have lipedema suffer from embarrassment, anxiety, depression, and not wanting to go out in public.
Sometimes in the early stages of lipedema it can be misdiagnosed as obesity, or lymphedema. Doctors can usually diagnose lipedema during a physical exam, listening to your symptoms, and getting a medical history.
Sometimes a doctor may want to do an ultrasound or MRI scan to rule out other causes of your symptoms. Most of the time they will be able to diagnose you by your symptoms and will be able to know what stage of lipedema you are in.
- Stage one the skin appears normal. There may be some enlarged fat nodules under the skin. You may be experiencing some pain and easy bruising.
- Stage two the skin starts to become uneven, dimpled, and an increased amount of fat.
- Stage three starts to develop large extensions of skin and fat, there are visible large folds of skin and fat protrude from the limbs. Legs start to appear columnar. Mobility and balance are affected. Pressure may be felt on joints. There starts to be reduced blood flow and lymph flow in the affected areas.
- Stage four lipedema and lymphedema are both present.
There is no cure for lipedema. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and inflammation and manage other symptoms.
One way to do that is through lymphatic drainage massage. This is a very light massage that helps move lymph fluid around the body. This can help with swelling, and lymph flow.
Another form of treatment is compression. This can be done with compression stockings, socks, panty hose, panties, spandex shorts, leggings, or arm sleeves. Compression garments can help reduce pain, inflammation, and fluid build up.
Exercise can help improve mobility, and reduce swelling. Good options for exercise are biking, walking or swimming. Swimming can help ease joint discomfort.
Anti-inflammatory diet, or a heart healthy diet can also be beneficial in lowering inflammation throughout your body, help with joint pain and keep you eating a healthy diet.
Antioxidant herbal medicines can also help decrease inflammation in the body.
Liposuction is a very good treatment option when other treatments aren’t working. Water-assisted liposuction is the preferred treatment for lipedema. It is done by a surgeon who will insert a tube into the area and suck the fat out. This gets rid of the fat buildup while leaving your lymph system untouched.
Lipedema can worsen to the point where it affects your daily life. Learning how to manage it with treatment options can help improve your pain, mobility, and ability to do things you normally would. There is no cure, but treatment options can work to help manage symptoms. Getting treatment can help stop the disease from progressing too quickly.