Published on August 31st, 2023 | by Anil Singh0
Misunderstood and Misdiagnosed
Lipedema is a relatively under-recognized and often misdiagnosed condition characterized by the abnormal accumulation of fat cells in specific areas of the body and significantly impacts the lives of those affected. By understanding its causes, symptoms and available management strategies, individuals with lipedema can seek appropriate care and take steps towards improving their overall well-being and quality of life. Additionally, continued research and awareness efforts will contribute to better diagnosis and treatment options in the future.
Lipedema is a chronic disorder that primarily affects women, causing an abnormal buildup of fat cells in the hips, thighs, buttocks and sometimes arms. Unlike typical weight gain, lipedema fat deposits have a unique, column-like appearance and are often resistant to diet and exercise.
The exact cause of lipedema is not fully understood, but genetics and hormonal factors play a significant role. Hormones like estrogen appear to contribute to the development of the disorder, which is why it is commonly seen in women. Family history also increases the risk of developing lipedema.
Hallmark symptoms include disproportionate fat accumulation in lower body areas, tenderness upon touch and easy bruising. As the condition progresses, it can lead to pain, decreased mobility and emotional distress. Diagnosing lipedema can be challenging, as it is often mistaken for obesity or lymphedema [lymphatic swelling]. Medical professionals typically rely on clinical observation and patient history, although imaging techniques may also aid in diagnosis.
Lipedema is often classified into stages based on its severity. Stage 1: subtle fat accumulation with minimal symptoms; Stage 2: increased fat accumulation, with visible changes in skin texture; Stage 3: pronounced fat buildup, skin nodules and increased pain; and Stage 4: severe fat accumulation, significant mobility issues and potential lymphatic involvement.
Lipedema is a chronic condition without a definitive cure, but different management strategies can help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life, including conservative measures (low-impact exercises, compression garments and lymphatic drainage techniques can help manage pain and swelling); healthy lifestyle (a balanced diet and regular exercise can prevent exacerbation of symptoms and promote overall well-being); and surgical interventions (liposuction techniques such as tumescent liposuction and water-assisted liposuction can reduce fat accumulation and improve mobility in advanced stages).
Living with lipedema can take a toll on mental health, as patients often struggle with body image issues and feelings of frustration. Support groups, therapy and education are essential to address the psychological challenges associated with the condition.
Ongoing research aims to uncover the genetic and hormonal underpinnings of lipedema, leading to more accurate diagnostic methods and potential targeted treatments. Raising awareness among healthcare professionals and the general public is crucial for early detection and proper management.
Board-certified plastic surgeon Boris Volshteyn, M.D., operates out of Atlantic Surgical Associates, in Monmouth. For more information, visit AtlanticSurgicalAssociates.com.