Lipedema: A Relatively Common Disease with Extremely Common Misconceptions

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Abstract

Lipedema, or adiposis dolorosa, is a common adipose tissue disorder that is believed to affect nearly 11% of adult women worldwide. It is characterized most commonly by disproportionate adipocyte hypertrophy of the lower extremities, significant tenderness to palpation, and a failure to respond to extreme weight loss modalities. Women with lipedema report a rapid growth of the lipedema subcutaneous adipose tissue in the setting of stress, surgery, and/or hormonal changes. Women with later stages of lipedema have a classic “column leg” appearance, with masses of nodular fat, easy bruising, and pain. Despite this relatively common disease, there are few physicians who are aware of it. As a result, patients are often misdiagnosed with lifestyle-induced obesity, and/or lymphedema, and subjected to unnecessary medical interventions and fat-shaming. Diagnosis is largely clinical and based on criteria initially established in 1951. Treatment of lipedema is effective and includes lymphatic support, such as complete decongestive therapy, and specialized suction lipectomy to spare injury to lymphatic channels and remove the diseased lipedema fat. With an incidence that may affect nearly 1 in 9 adult women, it is important to generate appropriate awareness, conduct additional research, and identify better diagnostic and treatment modalities for lipedema so these women can obtain the care that they need and deserve.

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