What is Lipoedema? Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Lipoedema is a condition that causes abnormal fat buildup in the legs and sometimes in the arms. It occurs almost exclusively in women and can be painful to touch. Unlike normal weight gain, lipoedema looks and feels different from ordinary fat. Let’s take a look at what lipoedema is, the signs, causes, and how you can treat it. 

What is Lipoedema?

Lipoedema mainly affects the hips, buttocks, and legs, but it sometimes affects the arms too. It’s a condition where there is abnormal fat buildup. The condition affects both sides of the body equally. It makes it look like your lower body is out of proportion with the rest of the body. 

Lipoedema is different from normal weight gain. The fat deposits can be painful and really impact your day-to-day life. People with lipoedema often have an average upper body, and the bottom half is out of proportion.  

The condition comes in several stages. To start, the surface of the skin appears normal, but the fat deposit under the skin is enlarged. As the condition continues, the skin begins to appear uneven and dimpled. In more severe cases, the area may become lumpy and even change shape. 

What Causes Lipoedema?

The exact cause of lipoedema is unknown. The condition appears to run in families, so scientists believe that genes are involved. There is likely a link to hormones as it can start or worsen at the time of menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.  

The Signs and Symptoms of Lipoedema

When you have lipoedema, many women describe their legs as being heavy, oversized and swollen. The legs appear to be symmetrically swollen. Unlike regular fat that feels smooth, the fat deposits feel like small nodules, like foam balls in a bag. It can be painful when you nudge or scrape the affected area, even gently. 

With lipoedema, your feet aren’t usually affected. The area tends to feel soft and dimpled, similar to cellulite. Other signs and symptoms of lipoedema include:

  • Feel heavy 
  • Bruises easily 
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Painful joints 

How Do You Treat Lipoedema? 

There is no cure for lipoedema. But several treatments can help you manage the condition, slow it down, and stop it from getting worse. Wearing compression garments won’t help reduce your limbs’ actual size, but it may help decrease pain and discomfort. The compression garment can stop the condition from getting worse. 

Eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight is essential in managing lipoedema. Extra weight will put stress on your joints. A healthy weight and staying active may help to stop developing a more advanced stage of lipoedema. 

Liposuction is another way to help treat lipoedema. It can help with reducing symptoms, pain and removing fat. For a lot of patients, liposuction delivers long-lasting results. But it’s important to know that the fatty tissue can come back and start to build up again. 

Liposuction of the thighs – 6 weeks post-op.

Another way to manage the condition is to focus on the skin. The skin around the affected area can be more susceptible to fungal infections and irritations. It’s essential that you keep the skin clean and pat dry to reduce the risk of infection. 

Finally, lipoedema can be a very challenging condition that affects your mental health. Looking after yourself and staying positive is important in the treatment of lipoedema. 

Living with lipoedema can feel difficult and tough. It can really impact your mobility, confidence, and mental health. By understanding the symptoms and signs of the condition, you can seek help and treatment to manage it and reduce symptoms. 

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