Lipoedema is a poorly understood condition, affecting mainly women. The condition predominately affects the legs, although arms and other parts of the body can be affected.
First described in the 1940s, a genetic cause is yet to be identified. Lipoedema is most likely to appear at puberty, before which time a young person will most likely have had a ‘normal’ body shape. Lipoedema can also appear during other hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menopause.
Lipoedema manifests as abnormal fat deposits around the region of the thighs, hips and lower legs, usually with a sharp demarcation with the ankles and knees, over which there is significant overhanging skin. A similar pattern of excess skin is seen in the upper arm.
A component of lymphoedema (a term used to describe the malfunction or obstruction of the lymphatic system resulting in a build-up of fluid) is often present. Unlike lymphoedema, lipoedema is usually bilateral and symmetrical. The condition often results in a patient experiencing difficulty with mobilisation or walking and frequently there are associated muscoskeletal complications.
It is rare that patients in Australia are diagnosed early and it is uncommon that they have cosmetic appearance as their chief complaint. Living with Lipoedema can be challenging, especially as it is so poorly understood by most health professionals and often misdiagnosed as obesity.
Patients are all-too-often referred for gastric banding or other bariatric surgery however typically these patients have minimal fatty tissue on their upper body, neck or trunk. Frequently lipoedema sufferers will try to control the size of their limbs by dieting, more often than not without success.