Lipedema is a rare disorder of adipose tissue that primarily affects females and is often misdiagnosed as obesity or lymphedema. It is characterized by an accumulation of fat in the arms and legs and while it is a distinct entity from lymphedema, it may progress to involve the venous and lymphatic systems. Patients may complain of tenderness and pain and sustain easy bruising. It most commonly affects the lower extremities but does not affect the feet. It can also be present in the upper extremities but, similarly, does not affect the hands.

Causes of Lipedema

Lipedema is not well understood, and the cause is not known. It does appear to develop at life stages when a woman’s hormones are changing, such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Obesity and “yo-yo” dieting have been shown to make lipedema worse.

Lipedema Symptoms

Those with lipedema typically bruise easily and the affected limbs are tender. As the swelling that is typical of lipedema increases, patients may have difficulty walking. In addition, they may experience anxiety or depression about the size of their lower body.

Lipedema Treatment

Research has shown that the fat accumulation in lipedema is not affected by restricting calories. However, a healthy diet and exercise can help your body feel better. Your diet should focus on foods that do not cause inflammation. Exercise goals are to get the lymphatic system moving, take care of your joints and adding strength to counteract extra body weight.

Your doctor may suggest manual lymphatic drainage therapy, which is gentle stretching and massage, as well as complex decongestive therapy, which involves wrapping techniques to facilitate drainage.

Surgical options include liposuction using specialized techniques for lipedema and surgical removal of large deposits of affected tissue. Often, multiple sessions of liposuction are necessary to treat the extremities all the way around and down the entire length. Liposuction can only reduce the amount of fatty tissue, but not completely remove it. Many patients often require ongoing conservative treatment postoperatively to maintain results. Additionally, the avoidance of postoperative weight gain is essential in order to maintain the results of surgery.