Lipoedema – A Guide
What is Lipoedema?
Lipodema is a condition were adipose tissue (fat) is deposited in the hips, buttocks, and both legs resulting in the lower half of the body being noticeably larger than the upper. Lipoedema can also occur in the arms.
What causes Lipoedema?
Lipodema is a genetic, inherited condition that often affects more than one person in a family. It mainly affects women, passing down through the female family line, sometimes skipping a generation.
Risk factors for Lipoedema
Having one or more female relatives with lipoedema, such as grandmother and mother, may mean an increased risk of developing the condition.
Symptoms commonly start in females at a time of hormonal disruption, between the ages of 18-25 years, during or after pregnancy, and during menopause. Until this time, the body may have been of normal proportion.
The symptoms of lipoedema include:
- Abnormal deposits of fat ranging in severity from small pockets of fat to an obvious difference in size between upper and lower body
- Areas of fat that hurt and/or bruise when banged or scraped gently
- Cool areas of skin
- Fat that is softer and more dimpled than normal body fat
- Development of lipo-lymphoedema
- Varicose veins
- Knee pain, due to loose connective tissue around the knees that may be diagnosed as osteoarthritis
- In patients of a normal weight, a distortion in BMI may occur as a result of fat deposition.
Lipodema occurs rarely in men, usually following hormonal disruption of testosterone.
Lipodema is a long-term condition, and can be managed by:
Healthy eating and weight management
Dieting does not have an impact on abnormal fat deposits, with weight loss usually occurring elsewhere on the body first. However, it can still be beneficial for overweight or obese people to lose weight since it reduces pressure on the joints and tissues as well as decreases the risk of conditions such as diabetes. Losing weight can also improve mobility. Similarly, eating well to maintain a normal weight has many benefits for health and wellness in people with lipoedema.
Skin care and protection
The affected limb(s) should be cleaned and dried gently, including any skin folds, and an emollient applied daily, especially if the skin is dry. Protecting the skin from injury is important to reduce the risk of cellulitis.
Compression therapy helps the limbs by:
- Reducing discomfort, aches and pains by supporting the tissues
- Streamlining and supporting the limb, helping movement and restoring normal limb shape over time, in some cases
- Reducing swelling by moving blood and lymph out of the tissues
- Preventing the worsening of symptoms
Other therapies such as manual lymphatic drainage or self-lymphatic drainage may help with pain and discomfort. Surgery may also help in some cases.