Information about “The Disease They Call Fat” from Medical Solutions Supplier
Lipedema is a fat disorder that is primarily found in women and causes fat deposits and pain in the upper arms, hips, and thighs. The word lipedema means “fluid in fat” and the condition is often called “painful fat syndrome.” Due to its common confusion with obesity, lipedema is also known as “the disease they call fat.”
For those with lipedema, getting an official diagnosis can be a long and frustrating struggle. The condition is often misdiagnosed despite the fact that it affects 17 million women in the U.S. and an estimated 350 million women worldwide.
The Lipedema Stages
Women with lipedema typically don’t display its symptoms until puberty or early adulthood at the earliest. Some women don’t show symptoms until after their first pregnancy or until they hit menopause.
In the lipedema stages, the earliest stage takes place unseen under the skin. Small amounts of fluid leak from the blood capillaries and while this fluid would normally be absorbed by adjacent lymph capillaries and returned to the circulating blood, this does not occur in lipedema.
Fat cells become abnormal and create a spongy layer that prevents normal fluid absorption. This means there is stagnant fluid sitting under the skin between the cells, which leads to inflammation, fat deposits, and fibrosis.
Over time, a woman with lipedema often notices that her lower body is becoming larger than her upper body, no matter how much she might try to use exercise or calorie restriction to change her body shape. She will continue to build fatty fluid under her arms and/or throughout her lower body.
As the condition worsens, mobility may be severely reduced and it could become very difficult to do daily tasks like bathing, dressing, and walking for any distance. The chronic pain of lipedema can also lead to psychosocial stress. This may be compounded by well-meaning but misguided advice from loved ones and health professionals about eating less and exercising more.
Those affected by lipedema often find tremendous support from non-profit organizations and online communities led by others, like themselves, who are seeking to raise awareness and offer solutions to manage their condition. These include (but are not limited to):
- The Lipedema Project
- The Lipedema Foundation
- Fat Disorders Resource Society (FDRS)
- Lipedema Fitness
- Lipedema Living
- Lipedema and Food Sensitivities
Interviews with key influencers in the lipedema community can be found here.
Common Lipedema Symptoms
The most common symptoms of lipedema include:
- Excess fat/fluid in the arms, hips, and thighs
- Nodules of fat that can be felt under the skin
- A body that appears normal on top but is quite large from the waist down
- Pain and tenderness in fatty parts of the body
- An inability to reduce overall weight despite efforts like calorie restriction and exercise
- Skin pitting, where the skin has a dotted and uneven texture
- Feet that seem unaffected, leading to a cuff at the ankle with a fatty overhang
- Capillary fragility, including being bruised easily
Lipedema Causes and Risk Factors
Lipedema Causes and Risk Factors
The exact cause of lipedema is still unclear and is the subject of extensive research. Because lipedema develops during certain hormonally-influenced stages of life, it may be hormonal in nature. It may also have a genetic link. The condition seems to occur most frequently in:
- Women who have reached puberty
- Women who have given birth
- Women who have reached menopause
- Those with a family history of the condition
- Those with multiple close female family members with the condition
To clear up common misconceptions, it is also vital to note which symptoms and conditions are different from lymphedema. Here are some important facts:
- Lipedema is not the same as obesity, however lipedema can create an average body-mass-index (BMI) of more than 35.
- Lipedema is not associated with a high risk of diabetes or hypertension.
- Lipedema is not the same as lymphedema, but lipedema can progress to become lymphedema.
What is the Difference Between Lipedema and Lymphedema?
From the outside, the most noticeable difference between lipedema and lymphedema is in the symmetry or asymmetry of the body. Lymphedema may occur only in one leg or one side of the body and create an asymmetrical appearance, but lipedema is usually shown symmetrically on both sides of the body.
Doctors often look at a patient’s ankles and feet to help diagnose lipedema. The thighs and calves are usually affected in lipedema, but the feet are not. This leaves a cuff or ridge at the ankle almost as if there is a band around the ankle creating a fatty flap above a normal-looking foot. In lymphedema, the feet are usually swollen and may even have open sores.
Pain is also a hallmark of lipedema. If someone has lymphedema or obesity, they will not usually have permanent pain and tenderness in the fatty areas of their body. But for some, lipedema pain can be constant and often comes with easy bruising and avoidance of touch.
As lipedema progresses, it can become secondary lymphedema, also known as lipolymphedema. This occurs when the fatty layers of lipedema have grown as fluid is collecting in the spaces between the fat cells, creating inflammation and fibrosis. At this point, the inflammatory environment within the body is destroying the lymph vessels and requires urgent treatment.
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Treatment for Lipedema
Good news: There are many treatments for lipedema that can reduce swelling, relieve pain, and restore mobility. The most common treatments include manual therapy techniques, compression garments, and pneumatic compression therapy devices. The Lympha Press Optimal Plus is the only pneumatic compression device cleared by the FDA for the treatment of lipedema. Lympha Press has been clinically proven, when used as part of a complete CDT program, to reduce swelling and pain of lipedema as well as to reduce the tendency to form bruises/hematomas. This treatment regimen can not only reduce leg volume and capillary fragility, but also improve pain intensity and mobility in patients with lipedema.
Do you have painful fatty areas that you can’t get rid of? You may be suffering from lipedema. Our Lipedema Patient Advocates consider it a privilege to help. Contact us to begin the process and see how our pneumatic compression therapy can make a difference in your life.