In Lipoedema, the hips, buttocks, legs and sometimes upper arms, are out of proportion with the rest of the body. Many women describe their legs as being heavy, big, swollen and like ‘tree trunks’.
Unlike normal weight gain caused by over-eating or lack of exercise, Lipoedema fat often (but not always) can be painful or feel heavy and hurt when banged or scraped, even gently. It also can bruise easily and many women experience multiple frequent bruising. There doesn’t appear to be any correlation between size of areas effected and how painful it is.
Lipoedema looks and feels different to normal body fat or lymphoedema, feeling soft and dimpled, like cellulite.
Lymphoedema is swelling that occurs when the lymphatic system stops draining the tissues adequately. There are many reasons why this happens. With Lipoedema it seems that body shape distortion – around the ankles for example – means the lymph system struggles to cope in that area and fails to drain the area of excess fluid efficiently. Fluid then builds up in the tissues. At this stage the condition of Lipoedema is re-classified as Lipo-lymphoedema. It is often only at this point that women are referred to specialist centres for the first time, usually for lymphoedema treatment. After many years of having the symptoms, their Lipoedema is finally recognised.
Varicose veins are a common problem for women with Lipoedema. Wearing compression hosiery will help prevent them.
Women with Lipoedema will frequently complain of knee pain which may be diagnosed as Osteoarthritis.
Although Lipoedema is distinct from obesity, having Lipoedema does not mean you cannot become obese. However, Lipoedema will distort Body Mass Index (BMI) calculations when considering whether or not Lipoedema patients are overweight in the conventional sense.
Women with Lipoedema often try multiple diets to control the size of their limbs by dieting without success. Many are accused of overeating, even when they consume very few calories. However, eating too many calories will create normal fat and can lead to obesity in other areas. Eating healthily and avoiding high calorie foods is important to remaining mobile and fit. Eating disorders are not uncommon, including under-eating, over-eating and over-exercising.
Living with Lipoedema can be challenging. It may be misdiagnosed as obesity and inferred that it is the result of over-eating and lack of exercise. Difficulty in finding clothes and shoes that fit may lead to a lack of confidence in social situation.
For more information on Psychological Support for people living with Lipoedema, visit here.