Lipedema (also known as “painful fat syndrome”) is a chronic disease that principally affects women. It is characterized by the disproportionate accumulation of fat tissue around the hips.
Unlike cellulitis or “love handles”, it can even reach as far as the calves and the ankles. It comes with intense pain.
Sufferers of this disease feel the impact of the aesthetic problem and the psychological implications it causes. Suddenly and without clear cause, they see the size of their hips and legs increase so much that it limits their mobility.
Lipedema is not so common in men, but in the few known cases it causes striking swelling around the face.
It is worth pointing out that this is not a simple problem of obesity. With this disease, the diet and lifestyle habits of the patient have nothing to do with the excessive accumulation of fat.
This is a genetic disease that also causes physical suffering.
Today on our blog we want to talk about it to give visibility to all those who suffer from it.
Life with lipedema, a daily challenge
Sara is 29 and her life was normal until she gave birth. After the birth, while she was caring for her baby, she started following a rigorous diet to lose the excess weight she had gained during pregnancy.
However, as the months went by, her body began to experience something unusual.
Her waist, torso and arms got slimmer and recovered their original shape. However, her hips and legs didn’t stop accumulating more and more fat.
After a year and a half, she could barely walk and found herself forced to use a wheelchair.
Doctors didn’t take long to diagnose her with lipedema, a disease that Sara had never heard of.
Her life had taken a 180 degree turn.
Unfortunately, the options for treatment are limited and the only therapeutic approaches that she had been offered are compression garments and gentle exercise.
Another alternative that she could turn to was liposuction. However, she didn’t have the economic means for that.
Also, doctors indicated that lipedema would quickly return: her legs would gain weight again.
Sara was aware that she will need help to care for her baby and that she may have to look for another job. Her mirror now reflects back the image of a changed woman who she will have to accept and help.
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What causes lipedema?
Strange as it may seem, there are not many clear and objective studies about the causes of lipedema and this excessive accumulation of fat in the legs, arms (or face, in the case in men).
It is suspected that there is a genetic cause and that metabolic, inflammatory and hormonal factors may have an influence.
What are the symptoms?
This abnormal accumulation of fat can start in puberty, after pregnancy or even during menopause.
The first things that these patients notice are:
- Pain in the soft tissue when resting, walking or upon touch.
- Sudden accumulation of lipedemic fat, from the waist to the knees or ankles. However, their feet are not affected.
- The fat accumulates in nodules or little pockets that put pressure on the joints to the point that it is not possible to walk normally.
- The skin loses its elasticity.
- Bruises and swelling appears.
A few months after experiencing this first stage, the person will notice the following:
- Constant cold sensation.
- The skin acquires a rubbery texture.
- Chronic pain and progressive deterioration of mobility. Added to the body image problems, these symptoms cause feelings of dejection, anger and sadness to the point that depression develops.
Is there a treatment for lipedema?
As we mentioned, lipedema has nothing to do with poor diet or unhealthy lifestyle habits.
This is a chronic, limiting and wearing disease for those who suffer from it. Thus, the therapeutic approach has to be broad and adapted to each individual, without excluding the psychological aspect of course.
Diets and fasting cures do not solve the problem of lipedema. Nor is there a specific pharmaceutical treatment that can resolve this tendency to accumulate excessive fat.
The most common treatments that are used are the following:
- Compression garments that work to “drain” and eliminate the fat.
- Massages focused on manual lymphatic drainage.
- Shock waves.
- Liposuction. However, it is also worth mentioning that liposuction doesn’t always help. It is not the solution and in many cases it can be very negative for the person, because the fat will reappear over time.
- Many patients are seeing great results with swimming.
Fundamentally, it is about finding the strategy that works best for each sufferer, while also facing each approach with optimism and accepting the change caused by this illness for which there still isn’t an effective solution.