Lipedema, a Serious Disease You Should Know About
It's unrelated to obesity and some confuse it with cellulitis. However lipedema is a painful and serious condition with an unknown cause.
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 a 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 tends to cause noticeable swelling around the face.
It should be mentioned that this isn’t the same as 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 we want to talk about it in the hops of giving more 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 change in unusual ways.
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 was offered were compression devices 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 anyway: her legs would gain weight again.
Sara was aware that she would need help to care for her baby and that she would possibly have to look for another job. Today, her mirror shows her the image of a changed woman who she will have to learn accept and find out how to help.
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What causes lipedema?
As 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’s suspected that there’s a genetic root and that metabolic, inflammatory and hormonal factors may have an influence.
What are the symptoms?
This abnormal accumulation of fat usually starts in puberty, after pregnancy, or even during menopause.
The first signs that these patients notice are:
- Pain in the soft tissue when resting, walking, or upon touching it.
- 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 becomes impossible to walk normally.
- The skin loses its elasticity.
- Bruises and swelling appear.
A few months after experiencing this first stage, the person will notice the following:
- A constant sensation of cold.
- The skin begins to acquire 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 often develops.
Is there a treatment for lipedema?
As we mentioned, lipedema has nothing to do with a poor diet or unhealthy lifestyle habits.
This is a chronic, limiting, and debilitating disease for those who suffer from it. Thus, the approach to therapy 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 cure this accumulation of excess fat.
The most common treatments used today are the following:
- Compression devices that work to “drain” and eliminate the fat.
- Massages focused on manual lymphatic drainage.
- Shock waves.
- Radio wave therapy.
- Liposuction. Note that liposuction doesn’t always help. It is not a permanent solution, and in many cases it can lead to more negative effects..
- Many patients are seeing great results with swimming.
Fundamentally, it’s about finding the strategy that works best for each sufferer. Sufferers should also learn to approach attempt at a solution with optimism. For the moment, acceptance of the changes it brings is key to psychological well-being, as there still isn’t an effective cure for the condition.