Lipoedema is a condition that is often misunderstood or mistaken for obesity or lymphoedema. In contrast to lymphoedema, there is no fluid collection in the tissue. If you break down the word ‘lipoedema’, it means ‘fat swelling’.
Lipoedema has no known cure but it is not necessarily progressive. With the right treatment it can be managed well.
Lipoedema almost exclusively occurs in women
This condition often appears around times of hormonal change – such as puberty, pregnancy, use of birth control pills, menopause, or significant weight gain. Lipoedema 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?
Lipoedema 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 lipoedema signs and symptoms here.
People with lipoedema 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 lipoedema
So far, there is no dedicated test or tool to diagnose lipoedema. Any other underlying medical conditions with similar symptoms must be ruled out. There is likely a high number of unreported cases because the condition is often misunderstood or misdiagnosed. The reverse is also true; some patients are diagnosed with lipoedema even though they do not meet all the diagnostic criteria. However, the awareness of lipoedema is growing through the education of healthcare professionals (HCPs). You should always consult an experienced HCP if lipoedema is suspected.
Sometimes it takes time to get a diagnosis. During this time, you can adopt a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and balanced nutrition. Being overweight can worsen your lipoedema symptoms. However, you should avoid any short-term dieting. Most diets fail in the end and result in a higher weight than before. Learn more about eating and living healthy here.
Getting a diagnosis from a HCP is the first step towards managing lipoedema successfully.
Understanding your condition is one of the most important aspects when managing your condition. Learn more about lipoedema here.
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Claudia Lymphoedema patient