Understanding Lipedema

Lipedema is a long-term (chronic) condition that affects the limbs and mainly occurs in women. The buildup of fatty tissue leads to swelling, discomfort, and pain.

Understanding Lipedema

Lipedema is a disease that is often misunderstood or mistaken for obesity or lymphedema. In contrast to lymphedema, there is no fluid collection in the tissue. If you break down the word ‘lipedema’, it means ‘fat swelling’.

Lipedema cannot be cured, but it is not necessarily progressive with the right treatment and can be managed well. In the following, you will get information about symptoms, diagnosis, and steps towards a holistic management of lipedema.

Lipedema almost exclusively occurs in women

The disease often appears around times of hormonal change – such as puberty, pregnancy, use of birth control pills, menopause, or significant weight gain. Lipedema mainly occurs in the lower limbs (legs, thighs, and buttocks) – and often leads to reduced mobility, a negative body image, low self-esteem, and psychological stress.

What are the symptoms?

Lipedema usually appears symmetrical in shape and size across both legs and, sometimes, arms. The body above the hips, and the hands and feet, remain unaffected. This often results in shape disproportion – a narrow waist and larger hips and thighs. The area is often painful and tender to touch due to an inflammatory process and a lack of oxygen in the tissue. Accompanying issues such as depression or anxiety disorder can also increase the pain, creating a vicious cycle. The area looks and feels different from normal body fat. It appears softer, feels cooler, and may be dimpled like orange-peel. Learn more about lipedema signs and symptoms here.

People with lipedema often describe the following:

  • Weight and shape disproportion between the lower and upper half of the body
  • Pain/discomfort in the skin and tissues of the legs or arms
  • Affected areas are tender to touch
  • Hands and/or feet appear normal, with no obvious changes
  • Loss of ankle definition and complaints of ‘cankles’
  • Affected areas feel different from normal body fat, cool and soft to the touch, with a dimpled appearance
  • Other female members of the family may have similar symptoms

Diagnosing & managing lipedema

So far, there is no dedicated test or tool to diagnose lipedema. Any other underlying diseases with similar symptoms must be ruled out. There is likely a high number of unreported cases because the disease is often misunderstood or misdiagnosed. The other way round, some patients are diagnosed with lipedema even though they do not sufficiently meet the criteria. However, the awareness of lipedema is growing through education of healthcare professionals (HCPs). You should consult an experienced HCP if lipedema is suspected.

Sometimes it may take time to get a diagnosis. In the meanwhile, you can contribute to a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and balanced nutrition. Overweight can worsen your lipedema symptoms. However, you should avoid any short-term dieting. Most diets fail in the end and result in higher weight than before. Learn more about eating and living healthy here.

Getting a diagnosis from a HCP is the first step towards managing lipedema successfully.  

Understanding your disease is one of the most important tools for managing it. Learn more about lipedema here.

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