Understanding Lipedema: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options
Lipedema is the abnormal buildup of fat in your lower body. It normally affects the legs, but it can also affect the hips and upper arms. It doesn’t affect the hands and feet, however.
People often believe that lipedema is caused by being overweight or confuse it with lymphedema. While it is true that many people with lipedema have a BMI of over 35 and that the condition can lead to lymphedema, lipedema is its own condition. Lipedema symptoms also do not often respond to diet and exercise.
Researchers estimate that 1 in 72,000 people have lipedema, but there are many cases that have gone undiagnosed since the condition can look like obesity or lymphedema. It is also estimated that 11 percent of people assigned female at birth have lipedema; the condition is much rarer in those assigned male at birth.
Symptoms of lipedema include:
- Fat buildup in the butt, thighs, calves, or upper arms on both sides of your body. This fat often looks and feels bumpy, as if something is underneath the skin.
- Mild to severe pain in the affected areas.
- A heavy feeling in the legs.
- Easily bruised skin.
There are also different types of lipedema that affect different parts of the body.
- Type I lipedema appears between the belly button and hips.
- Type II is between the pelvis and the knees.
- Type III appears between the pelvis and ankles
- Type IV is between the shoulders and wrists
- Type V is between the knees and ankles.
It is possible to have more than one type of lipedema at a time.
The exact cause of lipedema is unknown, but it appears to be hereditary in 20 to 60 percent of cases. It also starts or worsens during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, suggesting a connection to hormonal changes. More than half of people diagnosed with lipedema have a BMI of over 35.
Complications of Lipedema
Lipedema can lead to difficulty walking, joint issues, flat feet, and knock knees, or a condition where the knees are together even when the feet are apart. Many with lipedema also struggle with depression and feelings of embarrassment due to their appearance.
There is no known cure for lipedema, but there are treatments that can reduce pain and inflammation. Exercises such as swimming, biking, and walking can improve mobility and reduce swelling, and a heart-healthy diet can help slow the condition’s progression in its earliest stages. Wearing compression stockings and applying skin moisturizer can also reduce the severity of symptoms.
As for more invasive treatment options, liposuction can remove excess fat from affected areas. Bariatric surgery may also be recommended for those with a high BMI.
If you are living with lipedema yourself or you are concerned that you could develop the condition, First State MedSpa in Wilmington, DE can help you. Visit us online and fill out a contact form to schedule a consultation.