Understanding Lipedema

Lipedema affects 1 in 9 women and yet, this common disease is often misdiagnosed simply as obesity. Many medical providers miss this diagnosis due to limited knowledge of the condition or treatment options. Increasing awareness about lipedema is essential to accurately diagnose the condition and equip women with the right treatment plans and support for a healthy lifestyle. This week on Fox 17, Dr. Egan shares more about lipedema symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for women.

Fact #1

Lipedema is a connective tissue disorder that manifests as a painful expansion of fat cells, primarily on the thighs, hips, buttocks, and calves. This expansion of fat tissue occurs during major hormonal shifts such as puberty, pregnancy, the start of hormonal birth control, and hormonal therapies.or menopause. Lipedema causes pain and swelling, limiting daily function and routines, and may be accompanied by an unusual texture (the feeling of rice or peas) beneath the skin’s surface.

Fact #2

Lipedema requires a clinical diagnosis. Lipedema cannot be confirmed or diagnosed through a blood test or study. An informed physician must review the patient’s medical history, examine the patient, and review potential symptoms. 

Fact #3

Symptoms of Lipedema include: 

  • Symmetric fat tissue at the lower extremities extending from the hips to the ankles. 
  • A “cuff sign.” This is when fat tissue ends at the ankle without extending to the feet. This can also happen at the upper extremities, extending from the shoulders to the wrist, sparing the hands. 
  • Nodules or “bumps” can be felt under the skin, like rice or peas. These nodules can be as large as grapes and are usually quite painful to touch. 
  • Frequent bruising and spider veins starting at a young age. 

Fact #4

Lipedema has different stages and types. 

Stages are determined by how fibrosed the diseased adipose tissue has become.

  • Stage 1: ​​Smooth skin with an increase of enlarged adipose tissue. 
  • Stage 2: Uneven skin with indentations and larger mounds of adipose tissue that can be seen and felt.
  • Stage 3: Large buildups of adipose tissue that cause deformations (typically around the thighs and knees)
  • Stage 4: Typically categorized by large overhangs of adipose tissue on legs and arms. Lioplymphedema can also develop.

Types are determined based on where the excessive diseased adipose tissue is located.

  • Type 1: adipose tissue in the hips and buttocks 
  • Type 2: adipose tissue from the buttocks to the knees 
  • Type 3: adipose tissue from buttocks to ankles
  • Type 4: adipose tissue from buttocks to ankles + arms 
  • Type 5: adipose tissue in the calves only 

Fact #5

Lipedema treatment is different from obesity. Although lifestyle changes are important to help decrease pain and swelling at the extremities, dietary changes and exercise programs rarely change the amount of fat tissue in the legs and arms of lipedema patients. Nonsurgical treatments include compression therapy and lymphatic drainage. Depending on the severity, surgery options include liposuction and excisional surgery. With either option, it is essential to consult with a medical professional who is knowledgeable about lipedema and can equip you with individualized information to make a clear treatment decision. 

Takeaway tip: 

If you believe you may have lipedema, don’t wait any longer! Ask a qualified provider for a diagnosis and an optimal treatment plan. At true., we offer Lipedema consultations for patients in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, Colorado, and Alabama. You deserve to get back to feeling yourself!

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