Lipedema is a disorder of subcutaneous fat that primarily affects the extremities. Lipedema is influenced by hormones and often affects lymphatic circulation. It was first described in 1940 by Drs. Allen and Hines at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester Minnesota. However, awareness of the disease was much greater in Europe and it has been much less well known by physicians or the general population in the United States. Recently, there has been a growing awareness and understanding of the disease and appreciation of the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of it in the US.
Causes of Lipedema: The exact cause of lipedema (international spellings: Lipodema, Lipoedema, or Lipodem) is not known, but the condition is genetically linked and occurs almost exclusively in women. Lipedema is a fat disorder that only affects subcutaneous fat; the fat that is between the skin and muscle. It primarily affects the fat of the extremities – legs and arms.
Five Types of Lipedema: The type of Lipedema disorder is determined by the area of the body that is affected. There are five types of lipedema:
- Type I – affects the buttocks
- Type II – affects the buttocks, hips, and thighs
- Type III – affects the buttocks, hips, thighs, calves
- Type IV – affects the arms
- Type V – affects the calves
Some women will also develop lipedema fat on their lower abdomen and lower back, which does not quite fit into the current classification of lipedema types.
Lipedema fat is different: The lipedema fat is different from normal subcutaneous fat in many ways: it is disproportionate, it accumulates in excess in selected areas, depending on the type, and it accumulates out of proportion to the rest of the body. This gives lipedema sufferers the two body syndrome – for example a slim upper body but significantly larger lower body. It is not unusual for someone with lipedema to be a size 4 top and size 14 bottom. Lipedema is under significant hormonal influence and rarely occurs before puberty. It is often affected by hormonal milestones such as pregnancy, menopause, gynecological surgery affecting the ovaries, and other hormonal changes. The lipedema fat is highly resistant to weight loss.
Lipedema Inflammation: Lipedema fat goes through inflammatory changes. Early on lipedema fat is actually softer and fluffier than normal subcutaneous fat. As lipedema progresses the fat goes through inflammatory changes becoming firmer and more nodular and the areas become tender and swollen. Over time the fat becomes fibrous and nodular and it starts to feel like beans in a bean bag. In more advanced stages the fibrous bands create nodules and valleys.