The buildup of fatty tissue in lipoedema mainly affects both legs, leading to a shape disproportion between the upper and lower body. A narrow waist and larger hips and thighs are a characteristic sign of lipoedema. The fat distribution is symmetrical in both legs and arms. Together with the sensation of pain in the affected area, these signs help distinguish between lipoedema and other medical conditions.
Medical conditions that are often mistaken for lipoedema, but don’t experience shape disproportions and pain, are:
- Lipohypertrophy – abnormal accumulation of fat underneath the skin that is often associated with injections (e.g. insuline injections for diabetes)
- Chronic venous insufficiency – damage to the vein walls impair the blood flow back to the heart and result in swollen legs and feet
- Chronic heart failure – the heart fails to pump an adequate amount of blood around the body. The backpressure of blood leads to increased pressure within the smallest blood vessels, and fluid leaks out into the tissues
- Gravitational oedema – also called dependent oedema: results from pro-longed standing or sitting and disappears with movement
- Hormonal disorders:
- Lack of thyroid hormones
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Growth hormone disorders
- Rare diseases, such as Dercum’s disease – buildup of painful lipomas (distinct growth of fatty tissue)
It is important to know that lipoedema and some of the conditions mentioned above can appear together, e.g. obesity, lymphoedema, chronic venous insufficiency, and gravitational oedema.
Shape disproportions are a significant burden for lipoedema patients. You may find it difficult to accept your body as it does not fit your own ideal. A narrow waist and larger thighs and hips can make it hard to buy clothes. Nevertheless, it is important to focus on a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a stable weight instead of dieting. Many lipoedema patients try to lose weight with different diets and often gain more weight than before.
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