Lipedema is a symmetric and circumferential increase in fat of the buttocks, hips and legs, affecting the arms in most, sparing the upper abdomen, trunk, feet and hands. A cuff of fat can be present on the wrist or ankles where the lipedema fat ends and normal fat begins.
The lipedema fat is not smooth and feels like gelatin with small pea-sized nodules. The excess fat growth on the buttocks, hops and legs gives a distorted pear shape to the body where the lower body is clearly out of proportion to the upper body. Healthcare providers have not had ample opportunity to be educated on the texture of normal fat, therefore, it is usually a physical or occupational therapist with experience in manual lymph drainage or a compression garment fitter who may notice the lipedema fat tissue and mention it to the patient. Many women find information on lipedema by searching the internet for “painful fat legs.” Both mothers and fathers can pass lipedema to their daughters and various groups are currently researching for the genetic information that allows this to happen.
Treatment of lipedema is focused primarily on decreasing fluid in the tissue by:
- Manual lymph drainage therapists who gently open lymphatic channels and move lymphatic fluid using hands-on techniques
- Exercise including whole body vibration and swimming, exercises that have been proven to move lymphatic fluid
- Some supplements and medications that help with lymphatic pumping
- Compression garments that keep the fluid at bay and assist the sluggish lymphatic flow
Lipedema is a condition of excess gynoid fat that may result in deformities of the body, disability and development of diabetes. Current treatment may include liposuction, healthy diet and exercise or manual treatments to keep the fluid to a minimum. More research is needed in the area of lipedema to help the millions of women affected by this condition.
By Molly McBrayer, clinical manager, Roper St. Francis Bariatrics & Metabolic Services