Lipedema – Lipedema is an autoimmune-related disease. This disease is a chronic metabolic disease that causes subcutaneous fat cells to enlarge abnormally. It predominantly affects the legs and arms and comes with a lot of pain and easy bruising1.
Due to oestrogen being one of the known causes, the disease is found almost exclusively amongst women. It can be classified in three stadiums and four distinctive forms.
The first symptoms usually appear during puberty when the female body experiences important hormonal changes. However, because of the huge differences in speed and evolution of the disease – and the fact that it is still widely unkown – a diagnosis generally comes much later.
In 97% of cases, the thighs are the most affected which results in a disproportioned body (i.e. slim upper body, a lot larger from the waist down).
Symptoms of Lipedema
- Stabbing and pressure pain
- Tight-feeling skin
- Easy bruising
- Heavy legs
- Exhaustion and fatigue
The ramifications of the disease are not only physical but also psychological: as these fat cells are abnormal, diet or physical activity hardly have any effect on them.
Is Lipedema an Autoimmune Disease?
While Lipedema is not an autoimmune disease per se, it is connected to – and influenced by – other autoimmune diseases.
Recent studies show that it can be linked to other autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis or Rheumatoid Arthritis.
In what way exactly they influence each other is still unclear.
What is the Cause of Lipedema?
While it is still unknown, the cause of Lipedema is suspected to be of genetic and hormonal origin.
The diagnosis is established by analysing the symptoms and imaging examinations such as ultrasound and MRI.
Regarding the treatment (read below), a phlebologist is required to confirm the diagnostic in case of wanted surgery.
Treatment for Lipedema
The first and mainly applied therapy is the so-called “conservative decongestive therapy”. It’s a combination of wearing flat-knitted compression garments and getting lymphatic drainage.
This therapy does in no way cure or prevent the development of the disease. Its only effect is the alleviation of the symptoms.
Surgery is actually the only long-lasting treatment for Lipedema and it consists of a “water-jet assisted liposuction”, which means that water is injected under the skin to dissolve the ill fat cells and rinse them out.
The huge downside of this effective treatment is the cost. While compression garments and lymphatic drainage are usually covered by any basic health insurance, surgery never is. And the cost is rather high, depending on how many interventions one needs.
A healthy lifestyle with exercise and anti-inflammatory foods can slow down the progression of the disease but it can never cure it.
There are studies researching the effect of turmeric on the disease which seems to have a positive influence. Taken regularly (for example in a Golden Milk) helps to reduce pain caused by the permanent inflammation of the fat cells.
Living with Lipedema
Other than dealing with constant pain, swollen and stiff limbs, Lipedema affects your mental health as well.
Especially when Lipedema hasn’t been diagnosed, being unable to loose weight despite leading an active lifestyle and constant dieting is extremely frustrating.
Not to mention the vicious circle this leads to, as pain prevents you from doing exercise which, in turn, causes you to move your body even less. Hence further restricting your movements.
As I suffer from Ulcerative Colitis as well, one of my heaviest flare-ups caused extreme weight loss. I looked very sick, with bones showing everywhere but, weirdly enough, only on my upper body. My legs basically stayed the same. That’s when I realised something else was wrong.
So I started researching, talking to people, visiting several doctors before I learned about Lipedema.
I ended up having surgery on my legs, one intervention on the upper part, one on the lower part. The procedures are extremely painful but the result was absolutely worth the struggle. For example, six months after the last surgery, I started dancing the Flamenco – something that would have tortured me before that surgery.
If you suspect suffering from Lipedema, talk about it with your GP and/or phlebologist and ask them to check for the symptoms if they are not familiar with the disease.