What is Lipedema and How Can it be Managed?

What is lipedema?

Lipedema is a fat disorder that causes excess fat to accumulate in the lower part of the body. Lipedema most often affects the hips and legs, which are disproportionately larger than the upper body. On rare occasions, lipedema affects the arms. The cause of lipedema is unknown, and it is estimated that 10 percent of women are affected by the disorder. Medical professionals often misdiagnose lipedema as obesity. Over time, and left untreated Lymphedema can occur. The condition is known as secondary lymphedema or lipo-lymphedema.

Who is at risk?

Lipedema occurs mostly in women and is hereditary, affecting several family members. It is not uncommon for a maternal grandmother, mother and daughter to develop lipedema.

How can I tell if I have Lipedema?

You can develop lipedema at various ages, with symptoms appearing around puberty, pregnancy or perimeonpause. Major trauma, gynecological surgery or major periods of stress can trigger lipedema.

Symptoms include the following:

  • Fat build-up, which produces an abnormal shape of the buttocks and legs compared to the upper body
  • Tenderness, pain or bruising
  • Lack of mobility, including inability to walk normally

How is Lipedema managed?

Though there is no cure for lipedema, you can maintain an active and healthy life with therapy from a certified lymphedema therapist or trained medical professional. Conservative decongestive therapy (details below) can help decrease pain and hypersensitivity, increase mobility and to minimize additional issues such as additional swelling or lymphedema.

  • Massage Therapy: Manual lymph drainage is a special technique that may encourage the flow of lymph fluid out of the affected area of your body.
  • Exercises: Moving your affected limb through light exercise can help decrease lipedema symptoms. Learn more how exercising can help change your life in our Steps to Better Health blog post, which focuses on lipedema and exercise.
  • Diet: Health professionals advise people with lipedema to eat an anti-inflammatory healthy diet that includes whole grains, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables and fish to promote optimal weight. This diet helps boost the body's immune system, which will help reduce and manage infections. Visit Juzo’s Steps to Better Health blog to learn more about a healthy diet.
  • Compression Therapy: For best results start wearing compression garments after massage therapy. Compression garments are available in a variety of compression ranges, styles and fabrics. In some cases it is necessary to apply a lower level of compression depending on sensitivity and pain in the affected area. Also depending on your mobility. it may be necessary to wear a knee high or compression wrap so you can more easily put the garment on and take it off. Lastly, depending on your measurements, you may need a custom-made garment.

If you’re concerned that you may have lipedema, consult a trained MLD therapist or your primary care provider for a proper evaluation. Fortunately, the medical community is learning more about this disease from advocates like Sarah Bramblette. Read her story on our blog.