oLipoedema is a lifelong congenital fat distribution disorder that is thought to effect 11% of woman. The condition is not well recognised or well understood, so some people may often be misdiagnosed as being simply overweight. Because the fat cells are different to "normal" fat cells, they don't respond to diet or exercise, and lipoedema patients often appear to be two different sizes from the upper body to the lower body. For instance, the person might be a size 12 on her upper half, but have size 18 hips and buttocks.
Lipoedema can have a lot of effects on woman with the condition, and it can be severe. The condition can have severe and disabling effects on a patient's quality of life, physical and emotional well being. Some patients can lose their independence, becoming isolated and have other health problems alongside their lipoedema.
Lipoedema is still not well understand, so the underlying cause is still not confirmed. There is a strong link between genetics and family history, hormonal milestones, like puberty, pregnancy and menopause, inflammation and metabolic conditions.
Symptoms of Lipoedema
Both legs are enlarged. Arms can also be affected.
The waist is usually much smaller and out of proportion to the thighs, buttocks and legs
While the legs and arms can be affected, the hands and feet remain unaffected. There may be a "cuff" at the ankles or wrists.
The parts of the body affected are often very sensitive and painful to touch.
The legs or arms often bruise very easily
May feel cold to the touch
Diet and exercise doesn't have much effect
Heat and hot weather can make lipoedema worse
Often impacted or triggered by hormonal changes, such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause.
Fatty tissue has the appearance of cellulite and is often described with words like "lumpy", "wobbly"
The arms/legs may feel heavy and swollen - due to the extra fatty tissue and extra fluid as the lymphatics have to work harder to remove excess fluid.
Joints are very flexible (hypermobile)
Stages of Lipoedema Stage 1:
The skin thickens smoothly and evenly
Some swelling that will usually go down with rest and raising the legs.
"Orange peel skin" feels uneven.
There may be nodules or lumps under the skin that can be anywhere from the size of walnut to tennis ball.
Fluid swelling may no longer go down by raising the legs
Risk of skin conditions and infections, including cellulitis, increase
The difference in size becomes more pronounced.
The skin becomes harder
Swelling is doesn't go down
Skin may overhang
Harder to treat and manage
The symptoms of stage 3 become worse
Often referred to as lipo-lymphoedema as lymphoedema is now a part of the condition.
Treatment Like lymphoedema, there is no medication or treatment that will cure lipoedema. As a chronic (lifelong) condition, treatment is about managing the symptoms and preventing them from getting worse. Woman with lipoedema need to have a lot of input into their own management. It is important to manage diet and exercise, but any weight loss will be limited to the unaffected parts of the body. The first approach should be CDT or Combined Decongestive Therapy which is the same treatment as for lymphoedema.
Lipoedema can be treated surgically with some forms of liposuction, but should only be performed by a surgeon who is trained in the treatment of lipoedema.
Possible complications of Lipoedema
Advanced lipoedema can progress to lipolymphoedema, whereby the excess fat tissues press on the lymphatic vessels and making it difficult for the lymphatic system to work.
It's common for woman with lipoedema to develop problems with the hips, knees and ankles as the excess fat tissue changes the way someone moves and walks.
Damage to the blood vessels can also occur, leading to venous disfunction and phleboedema
Lipoedema, phleboedema and lymphoedema can also combine together to cause significant problems with health, mobility, independence and quality of life.