Lipedema almost exclusively occurs in women. The onset of lipedema signs and symptoms is often associated with weight gain that is mostly connected to hormonal changes - such as puberty, pregnancy, use of birth control pills, and menopause. There are a few signs and symptoms that are characteristic of lipedema:
- Enlargement of the soft tissue
The buildup of fatty tissue leads to an enlargement of the legs and, less frequently, the arms. The enlargement appears symmetrical in both legs or arms.
- Weight and shape disproportion
Enlargement of the legs often results in shape disproportion – a narrow waist and larger hips and thighs. Many lipedema patients report that they have difficulties buying clothes due to the different sizes between their upper and lower half of the body.
- ‘Cuffing or braceleting‘ at the ankles or wrists
The feet and hands are usually not affected and appear normal. The buildup of fatty tissue suddenly stops before the ankles or wrist. This is called ‘cuffing or braceleting‘.
- Loss of ankle definition
Many lipedema patients complain about ‘cankles’, meaning that the calves seem to merge into the ankles.
- Pain and discomfort
The affected limbs are often tender, sensitive, or painful.
- Changes in the texture, temperature, and appearance of the skin
The affected area feels different from normal body fat: it feels cooler, softer, and can appear dimpled like orange-peel.
In contrast to lymphedema, there is no edema in a pure lipedema: pressure on the affected area does NOT leave an indentation.
- Limited mobility and range of motion
The buildup of fatty tissue at the legs can impair normal gait: the legs feel heavy and may also rub against each other. Joint pain, especially in the knees or hips, is common as well.
Patients also report about bruises at the affected area, often without a known reason. However, this is not only typical for lipedema.
A proper diagnosis should always be made by an experienced healthcare professional (HCP). Unfortunately, lipedema is a disease that is often misunderstood or mistaken for lymphedema or obesity.
Lipedema can’t be treated, but early treatment and prevention of weight gain can reduce the risk of progression.