Lipedema (or “lipoedema”) is a chronic condition that causes an abnormal accumulation of fat in specific areas of the body. This fat is accompanied by fluid swelling and other changes that may eventually culminate in lipo-lymphedema.

Individuals with lipedema are often misdiagnosed as simply being overweight, or their condition is mistaken to be a different swelling condition known as lymphedema.

But lipedema is its own distinct condition and a non-trivial one. Lipedema is a chronic and progressive ailment with unique health implications. It requires ongoing symptom management to ease discomfort and prevent progression to more advanced stages, including lipo-lymphedema (more on this later).

A “typical” sufferer of lipedema appears to have a disproportionately overweight lower body when compared to their upper body. But patients with lipedema are not always “typical”, an abnormal accumulation of fat is only the most obvious of the symptoms. Since it is a progressive condition, symptoms will also worsen and change with time.

Causes of Lipedema

The exact cause of lipedema is unknown. But the condition runs in families and may be inherited. The condition occurs almost exclusively in women, and usually starts or gets worse at the time of puberty, pregnancy, or menopause. Because of this, there is likely a connection to hormones. Lipedema is not caused by obesity, but more than half of patients with this condition are overweight or obese. Dieting can cause you to lose weight in your upper body without changing the areas affected by lipedema. 

Diuretics, elevating your legs, and support stockings do not help the affected areas. There is typically no swelling in feet, or hands unless the patient has chronic venous insufficiency or lymphedema.

As the condition gets worse, lipedema can affect your ability to walk.

Many patients with lipedema have emotional symptoms, such as being embarrassed, anxious, and depressed as the lower part of their body grows larger.

Over time, as more fat accumulates, it can block the lymphatic pathway. This causes a build-up of fluid called lymph. The condition is known as secondary lymphedema or lipo-lymphedema.

Symptoms of Lipedema

The typical symptoms are a large lower half and column-like legs, which are often tender and bruise easily. For example, the top half of your body may be a size 8, but the bottom half may be a size 16.

As the condition progresses, fat continues to build up, and your lower body grows heavier. The lipedema fat can later collect in the arms. 

Over time, fat cells block the vessels of your lymphatic system, which normally helps balance body fluid levels and protect against infection. This blockage prevents the proper drainage of lymph fluid, leading to a buildup of fluid called lymphedema.

If not treated, lymphedema can lead to problems such as infections, delayed wound healing, the development of scar-like tissue called fibrosis, and hardened skin in the legs.

Unlike obesity, it targets legs, thighs, and sometimes arms. Unlike lymphedema, lipedema doesn’t start in the lower legs (feet and ankles) but in the upper legs, and it isn’t related to prior surgery. It usually affects both legs.

Treatment of Lipedema

Lipedema is a crucial condition that needs an effective solution. Several doctors have used different treatments to try to cure this disease, such as keeping patients on a strict diet plan, making them exercise hard, or even using traditional liposuction. But these remedies have not shown a permanent improvement in the condition of the patient. Also, these treatments have their side effects and impact the health of the lymphatic system.

Recently, stem cell therapy has been shown to produce long-lasting results for many patients dealing with this condition. These treatments have improved the body’s ability to reduce swelling and build resistance. This has resulted in the enhanced quality of life of the patients that were not possible with the traditional methods.