Lipoedema is a condition in which more fat than usual is stored under the skin, predominantly on the legs, the buttocks and the arms. This disease almost exclusively affects women and has nothing to do with being overweight. It is a fat distribution disorder in the body which can also occur in people of a normal weight. Those who suffer from lipoedema often have a noticeably different upper and lower body – the former is slim and the latter is extremely large. The fat storage is often accompanied by pain or sensitivity to pressure.
Lipoedema develops slowly and usually starts in phases of hormonal change, i.e. in puberty, during pregnancy or menopause. It is not known why certain people develop the fat distribution disorder in their body in such phases but others do not. It is assumed to be due to an interplay between genetic predisposition and hormonal influences.
Lipoedema is characterised by a notable imbalance between the upper and lower body. The fat storage, which always occurs symmetrically, causes enlargement in the buttocks, upper legs and lower legs. Sometimes, the arms are affected as well. In contrast, the upper body and stomach often look slim. Unlike lymphoedema, lipoedema does not cause swelling in the feet. Lipoedema can occur in people of a normal weight and in overweight people. In the case of overweight people, the difference between the upper and lower body is less obvious. Those affected often complain of pain and sensitivity to pressure in the area of the fat swellings. The blood circulation is also impaired as a result of the fat deposits, which often also causes water retention in the legs. Furthermore, even the slightest external pressure on the affected areas can cause haematomas.
Lipoedema is diagnosed on the basis of the characteristic clinical picture and the typical symptoms. However, there is always a danger that lipoedema is mistaken for excess weight.
In contrast to excess weight, lipoedema is very difficult to influence with a change in diet or with exercise. A healthy diet and exercise are a good idea; however, other measures are usually required to alleviate the symptoms of lipoedema. These include lymph drainage and compression stockings. However, a visible reduction in the subcutaneous fat tissue can usually only be achieved with liposuction. This also alleviates the symptoms of lipoedema.