How to Treat Lipoedema

How to Treat Lipoedema

Lipoedema occurs when an excess amount of fat builds up in your legs and, less commonly, in your arms. It is more often found in women and generally has an equal effect on both sides of the body. The process of building up is gradual. To begin with, the legs will appear heavy, the waist will be narrow and the upper body will be much smaller.

Your bottom may appear larger than normal, as will your thighs and lower legs, but it is extremely rare for the feet to be affected.

Lipoedema can also affect your arms, but your hands will genuinely remain unaffected. If you run your hand over the affected areas of your body, you will notice that your skin feels soft and cool and may be pockmarked with an orange peel texture.

The affected areas may also experience feelings of pain, tenderness or heaviness and you may find yourself bruising more easily. The most extreme cases will see the affected areas become lumpy and change shape completely. In its most advanced cases, fluid may also collect in the affected area along with fat. This is called lipo lymphoedema.

Knock-on effects from lipoedema can include knock knees, flat feet and problems in your joints, the effects of which may reduce your mobility. As it is not an easy condition to live with, you may also find yourself experiencing mental difficulties such as depression and anxiety.

The excess fat cannot be removed via dieting nor exercising. There are five different groupings of lipoedema that doctors have identified. First, there is the saddle bag, in which the pelvis, buttocks and hips will be affected. The second is from the buttocks to the knees, where it is common for folds of fat to accumulate on the insides of the knees.

The third is the full leg, in which the entire area from the buttocks to the ankles will be affected, the fourth is the arms and the fifth is when only the lower leg is affected. It is not unheard of for people to suffer from more than one grouping of lipoedema. The exact cause of lipoedema remains unknown. Some have argued that being overweight contributes to it, but this is not true. Many people with a healthy BMI can be afflicted with it.

The most common theory is that it is caused by changes in the hormones, which can occur during several occasions; during puberty, during pregnancy, while going through menopause and while taking the contraceptive pill. A hereditary factor is also commonly cited. Between 15-64% of all people diagnosed with lipoedema were found to have a family history of the ailment.

Very little research has been carried out on lipoedema and as a consequence it is unknown how many people are affected by it and to what extent. If you suspect that you are suffering from lipoedema, you should arrange to see your GP at once.

They will be able to determine whether you have the condition or whether you are suffering from another skin condition such as lymphoedema, which hardens and tightens the skin on your legs but does not hurt when it is touched.

Or it may be a build-up of fluid known as oedema which causes the legs, ankles or – unlike most cases of lipoedema – the feet to swell up. Should one or both of your legs become swollen, red and hot and cause you pain, accompanied by flu-like symptoms, you should contact your GP immediately as you may well have a skin infection known as cellulitis which can be treated with antibiotics. At present, there is no diagnostic test specifically for diagnosing lipoedema and the current method of diagnosis is the elimination of all other possibilities. Not all doctors are trained to recognise lipoedema and only around one in ten people said they received a diagnosis after initially describing their symptoms.

Often the patient is advised to diet and exercise more. This may not prove useful in reducing the build-up of fat. However, as dieting and exercising are important in remaining healthy, they may prove useful in helping to control the symptoms.

As lipoedema is a progressive condition, your GP will take a series of measurements to determine how it is developing. These will include measuring all the affected limbs, your waist measurement and your weight and height to determine your BMI (body mass index). If you receive a diagnosis of lipoedema, your GP will refer you to a specialist in order to receive treatment.

At present, there is no cure for lipoedema, but there are several treatments which can prevent it from worsening. You may be encouraged to wear compression stockings or bandages. These help to reduce pain and discomfort and aid you with walking.

You may be prescribed moisturizing creams known as emollients to prevent your skin drying out. Alternatively, you may be encouraged to have a procedure known as liposuction to get rid of your excess fat, particularly if your symptoms are especially severe. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may need to undergo the procedure more than once and it may not always be readily available on the NHS.

Compression therapy may also be a viable option for you. There are various types of compression theory on offer and an appropriately trained clinician will be able to recommend the most appropriate type of compression therapy once they have assessed you.

You may also be offered manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), which is a form of light massage used to reduce swelling caused by excess fluid. Lipoedema patients have reported that it is also useful in reducing pain and discomfort. Since lipoedema can have a negative effect on your mental health, you may also be offered talking therapies such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Lipoedema is a harsh condition to live with, but once you receive a diagnosis you will be able to access treatment and bring your symptoms under control. You will also be able to reach out to other people with the condition who will understand what you are going through.


This article is for educational and informational purposes only and must not be used or taken as a substitute in any form for any medical advice, medication you are currently taking or any alternative treatments without the prior advice, guidance and consent from your medical doctor. Please speak with your doctor first before making any changes to your diet or medicine as a result of reading any information laid out on this website or in this or any other articles.

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