Lipedema is a painful, poorly understood fat disorder. It develops when fat distributes unevenly beneath the skin, usually accumulating in large amounts in the buttocks and legs. If left untreated, lipedema can cause a myriad of health problems, reduce your quality of life, and present vast emotional and physical challenges.
The typical lipedema sufferer is a woman who can’t lose weight despite following a healthy diet and exercising regularly. The disorder affects about 17 million people in the United States and 270 million people around the world. The overwhelming majority of these individuals are women.
Lipedema can be mild, moderate or severe, and it can affect both thin and overweight individuals alike. No amount of diet or exercise can cure or prevent the condition. It commonly first appears during the teenage years and worsens over time.
Lipedema is often wrongly dismissed as simple obesity. However, it is a distinct and unique medical disorder with different symptoms and treatment requirements.
The telltale signs of lipedema include:
The proportions associated with lipedema are often quite noticeable. For example, a typical lipedema sufferer may wear a size 8 on the upper body and a size 18 on the lower body.
Although the precise cause is not known, it is suspected that lipedema is related to female hormones because the condition is most common among women and tends to begin or worsen during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, or following gynecologic surgery.
There is also likely a genetic component because the condition tends to run in families.
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Diet and exercise cannot reduce the fat associated with lipedema. Although it’s important to eat well and exercise to improve mobility and reduce your risk for other health problems, these healthy actions alone will not cure lipedema.
Lipedema is a medical disorder with serious health implications. As the condition progresses, your lower body will continue to become heavier and eventually the fat will collect in your arms and abdomen.
Over time, the excess fat may block the vessels of your lymphatic system – which is responsible for balancing bodily fluids and protecting against infection. This blockage can prevent the proper drainage of lymph fluid, which can result in lymphedema. Left untreated, lymphedema can cause infections, healing challenges, hardened skin, and the development of fibrosis, which is scar-like tissue.