MVZ für Gefäßmedizin und Venenchirurgie | What is lipedema?
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What is lipedema?

What is lipedema?

Lipedema (Lipohyperplasia dolorosa) is a symmetrical fat distribution disorder of the buttocks and lower extremities that can reach down to the ankles. Feet and toes are not affected. People suffering from lipedema bruise easily (hematomas). Additionally, they are prone to water retention in the latter part of the day. Other symptoms include a dull sensation of swelling, tenderness to touch and pressure, as well as sensitivity to cold. The arms are also affected in approx. 60 percent of patients.

If the patient does not have a strong propensity toward hematomas, water retention, and pain, lipohypertrophy may be present. Lipohypertrophy visually appears similar to lipedema, but it is simply a variance in the shape of the body, not a disease.

Lipedema affects mostly women. It is therefore suspected that hormones play a significant role in the cause of the disease. Lipedema generally occurs at the end of puberty, during pregnancy, or in menopause. However, it can also begin at any other time. Lipedema is chronically progressive, meaning that it increases over the course of time. Lipedema leads to the creation of fatty layers, resulting in the condition of being knock-kneed, and sometimes also causes significant gait disorders. Psychological factors regarding physical appearance lead to depression. At an advanced stage, after 15 to 18 years, lymphedema may also develop.

The fatty tissue associated with lipedema does not respond to diet, exercise, or medication. Only targeted therapy has any positive effects. Lipedema is not characterized by excess fat, as is the case in obesity, but rather, the fat cells of the extremities are formed differently.

Since most patients have tried every diet and weight loss program around to change the shape of their legs since puberty, many develop an indifference to proper nutrition which results in significant weight gain or obesity.

Outward manifestation of lipedema

  • Type I: Increase in fatty (adipose) tissue in the buttocks and hips (riding breeches phenomenon)
  • Type II: Lipedema reaches down to the knees, development of fatty layers on the inside leg surfaces of the knees
  • Type III: Lipedema reaches from the hips down to the ankles
  • Type IV: Both arms and legs are affected
  • Type V: Lipolymphedema