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How Quickly Does Lipedema Progress?

There’s nothing more frustrating than sticking closely to an exercise routine and never deviating from a diet without any results to show for it. While some may attribute this scenario to a subpar attempt at fighting fat, for many, there is an underlying medical reason that weight isn’t being lost despite a concentrated effort. When diet and exercise aren’t doing the trick and in some cases, weight continues to accumulate over time, it’s time to look more closely at what could be causing this to happen.

Woman in sports bra and leggings sitting on wall

Nearly 17-million women in the U.S. and nearly 370 million women across the globe suffer from a condition known as Lipedema. What is regularly associated with unruly weight gain in its initial stages can quickly spiral out of control if left undiagnosed. Often striking in a woman’s mid-20s, Lipedema is a disease that leads to the excessive buildup of fat cells primarily in the arms and legs. Going far beyond the appearance of extra pounds, those who suffer from Lipedema often present with pockets of fat on the limbs that appear disproportionate in comparison to the rest of the body.

Lipedema Symptoms and Signs

Woman with Lipedema posing in her underwear

Women suffering from Lipedema often report the disease in association with painful symptoms that trigger difficulties dealing with everyday life activities. Excessive swelling often comes with pain, numbness, and bruising. In its advanced stages, Lipedema can impact mobility and
provokes vascular and lymphatic swelling which can lead to further medical complications.

Lipedema is often misdiagnosed as standard obesity, leaving patients to deal with an endless cycle of disappointment and ongoing pain as symptoms continue and weight refuse to fall off. Unfortunately, Lipedema does not respond to an altered diet or increased exercise and ultimately requires cosmetic intervention in order to alleviate the appearance and pain of symptoms. Patients often report that the road to their initial diagnosis is an uphill battle. Women with Lipedema are typically diagnosed by their primary care provider with traditional obesity, and all treatment methods follow this diagnosis.

Examples of Lipedema Signs & Symptoms:

  • Tender skin and soft tissue in the affected areas that are sensitive to pressure and walking.
  • The skin and soft tissue in the affected area initially have a fluffy or slightly rubbery feel. As the disease progresses the skin becomes harder and feels nodular like beans in a bean bag or rubber super balls.
  • As the disorder advances, the skin loses elasticity, and the skin surface becomes uneven, with protruding hills and fibrous valleys developing.
  • Decreased skin temperature or a relative coolness of the skin.
  • Leg heaviness and fatigue, which can lead to overall fatigue.

Ball and Chain on Leg

  • Swelling in the affected area. Initially, the swelling worsens during the day and resolves at night with elevation. As the disease progresses the swelling becomes persistent and does not resolve with elevation overnight. At the more advanced stages, the swelling affects the whole limb so that the feet and or hands swell.
  • Easy bruising and visible veins.

Woman checking legs on couch

  • Disproportionate fat accumulation, which is not affected by calorie restriction.
  • Feet and hand relatively spared of swelling.

Unfortunately, as any Lipedema specialist will tell you, this treatment proves ineffective, and leaves women with Lipedema without answers, without a solution, and with continued pain and continued frustration as their, Lipedema continues to progress. Liposuction performed on the affected limbs is generally the most effective form of treatment. Removing fat deposits that are diseased not only helps reduce swelling of the limbs but alleviates the pain that holds patients back from everyday activities. But before women with Lipedema and even consider these procedures and treatment options, they must first find a doctor who is an expert in this field and start with a proper diagnosis of the disease.

Selecting Expert Care

When it comes to liposuction specific to treating women with Lipedema, an experienced physician is required to perform the procedure successfully. While 93% of doctors and nurses are not aware of Lipedema or the symptoms it causes, experts in this field are working diligently to advance the field and continue finding the best methods of care. Advanced technique and precision planning are both required to remove diseased fat deposits and achieve long-term results, and as a result, the best way to find solutions is to partner with an experienced Lipedema healthcare provider.

Doctor discussing procedure to Patient

Women suffering from Lipedema should always take the time to ensure they are under the care of a physician who specializes in Lipedema treatment and is willing to work closely with their patients to create customized treatment options.

Stages & Progression of Lipedema

As patients work through getting an official lipedema diagnosis, experts will first need to determine what stage the lipedema is currently at. There are three different stages, or levels of progression used to evaluate how far the disease has progressed in the affected areas of the body – the first stage being the earliest onset, and the third stage the most progressed.

As lipedema progresses through these three stages, the level of pain, tenderness, swelling, and fat accumulation may increase. Depending on the person, different parts of the body can be affected in different ways at each stage.

The Only Way To Reset Lipedema Progression: Lymph Sparing Liposuction

Once you’ve been properly diagnosed by a doctor specializing in Lipedema, patients are advised to start with conservative and non-surgical treatment methods. While lymph-sparing liposuction for Lipedema is the only effective way to stall or stop the progression of Lipedema, non-surgical methods allow the patient and their doctor to first determine what their specific symptoms may be responsive to.

Examples of Conservative Lipedema Practices:

  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage (referred to as MLD).
  • Adopting a diet focused on low levels of carbohydrates and limited refined foods.
  • Beginning and maintaining regular exercise activity that’s low impact, such as water exercise.

Woman in a lake, legs visible

However, in reality, lymph sparing liposuction will be the most effective and long-lasting treatment option for women with Lipedema. After regular practice of the available conservative Lipedema treatments, Lipedema experts may recommend a surgical plan for addressing the affected areas based on their patient’s specific needs. Lymph sparing liposuction has been shown to improve the quality of life of patients post-surgery, improve their pain long-term, increase mobility, and provide access to a new, more active lifestyle than they’ve previously known.

Modified liposuction surgery is the only available technique to correct and remove the abnormal adipose tissue of lipedema. Liposuction is a surgical treatment that involves the application of local (tumescent and water-assisted) anesthesia, and subsequent removal of adipose tissue through a straw-like device called a cannula. One end of the cannula is connected to a vacuum device, and the other end is inserted through a small incision of the skin and removes.

Lipedema Procedure Tools

There are two techniques of liposuction that can be safely used to treat lipedema, provided the surgeon has experience in techniques to avoid injury to the lymphatics. Note: Lipedema patients often have impaired lymphatic function, so great care must be taken to avoid further damage. The two liposuction techniques that are safest and most effectively used by surgeons with a great deal of experience with the treatment of lipedema are tumescent liposuction and water-assisted liposuction. These two are the only research-backed surgical treatment plans for lipedema

Tumescent liposuction for Lipedema

involves the introduction of large volumes of tumescent solution into the fat below the skin space to tumesce (or swell) the area. This solution contains lidocaine anesthetic, which causes local numbness; epinephrine, which causes constriction of blood vessels to reduce the risk of bleeding; and saline, which causes swelling of the adipose tissue and protects the vascular structures from trauma. The solution is allowed to infiltrate the tissue, and its salinity causes the adipose tissue and cells to swell and separate from the connective tissue, at which point the cannula is used to aspirate the fat.

Water-Assisted Liposuction

This type of liposuction treatment for Lipedema does not involve over-swelling [tumescence] of the adipose tissue. Instead, small amounts of tumescent solution and water are introduced into the adipose tissue. Once sufficient numbing occurs, a modified cannula with an attached fan-shaped and slightly pressurized saltwater jet is inserted into the subcutaneous space and applied to separate the adipose cells from the tissue, while simultaneously aspirating the solution and detached cells.

Trust the Professionals in the Field

Even with all the challenges presented by lipedema, there are those who you can trust. Dr. Wright continues to strive for better education, research, and coverage for the lipedema community. Do not let these challenges bring you down even further; let Dr. Wright and his expert team help you to reduce the symptoms of lipedema and live your life. Dr. Wright can help find the right procedure to help manage your lipedema symptoms, such as lymphatic drainage massage. Don’t let lipedema take over your life; contact us today!