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Diseases

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Lipedema

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* Not a rare disease
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Overview



What is lipedema?

What are the signs and symptoms of lipedema?


What causes lipedema?

How might lipedema be treated?


What is lipedema?

Lipedema is a syndrome characterized by symmetric enlargement of the legs due to deposits of fat beneath the skin, which is often painful.  It is a common condition affecting up to 11% of women  The underlying cause is currently unknown; however many people with lipedema have a family history of similarly enlarged legs. Hormones are also thought to play a role.[1][2]
Last updated: 7/12/2011

What are the signs and symptoms of lipedema?

Signs and symptoms of lipedema include enlarged legs extending from the buttocks to the ankles. This enlargement can be painful. The size of the legs are typically out of proportion to the upper body (despite the individual’s BMI). The feet are much less involved or spared entirely. In lipedema, the skin does not appear warty, hard (sclerotic), or discolored. Lipedema is not thought to predispose a person to ulcer development.[1] People with lipedema may tend to bruise easily, possibly due to increased fragility of small blood vessel within the fat tissue.[3]
Last updated: 7/12/2011

What causes lipedema?

The cause of lipedema is unknown. Hormones appear to play a role, especially considering that the condition occurs almost entirely in females and often develops after puberty or other periods of hormone change (e.g., pregnancy, menopause). Although people who are obese may be overrepresented among those with lipedema, persons of normal weight are also commonly affected. As a result, obesity alone is unlikely to be a major determinant of this syndrome. Many people with lipedema have a family history of similarly enlarged legs. At this time the role of genetics in the causation of lipedema is unknown.[1]
Last updated: 7/12/2011

How might lipedema be treated?

Treatment options for lipedema are limited. A number of therapies that have been tried with minimal success include dieting, diuretics, leg elevation, and compression. Invasive treatments such as lipectomy or liposuction are not recommended because they risk causing damage to the lymphatic system. While, compression therapy may not do much to improve the lipedema, it may help prevent worsening and progression to lymphedema (lipolymphedema).[1]
Last updated: 7/12/2011

References
  1. Fonder MA, Loveless JW, Lazarus GS.. Lipedema, a frequently unrecognized problem. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007; 57 (2 Suppl):S1-3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17637360. Accessed 7/12/2011.
  2. Lipoedema. DermNet NZ. June 2009; http://dermnetnz.org/dermal-infiltrative/lipoedema.html. Accessed 7/12/2011.
  3. Wyatt L, Pribaz J. Lymphedema. In: Abeloff. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology, 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone; 2008;