Lipedema, misdiagnosed as Fat


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June 21, 2021

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Lipedema is a chronic, progressive condition of disordered fat metabolism. The disease is characterized by a chronic disproportional distribution of the subcutaneous fat accompanied by  the feeling of heaviness, pain and discomfort.  The most important criterion for Lipedema is the disproportional increase in fat that occurs most often in the legs and sometimes also in the arms. It is important to differentiate lipedema from obesity, because Lipedema individuals try “diet and exercise” but experience the jo-jo-effect gaining weight again.

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The answer to this is a resounding NO. Fat, Overweight, Obesity and Lipedema are completely diffrerent conditions that often occur together, and is deemed as comorbidities.

Your Lipedema symtoms will simply be pronounced if you are obese, Likewise, an inherited tendency to develop lipedema may result in weight gain and the resulting accumulation fat tissue more easily than others. It is a vicious cycle between these conditions.

How many women have lipedema?  Some researchers say the average is likely about 10% of all women may suffer from this disease. Unfortunately, many in the medical profession still don’t recognize the condition. It may take years for some women to get a proper diagnosis. Many are told that they simply have a female, pear-shaped body as a result of obesity.

If you have concerns about your heavy legs, your symptoms are dismissed and you have been told to restrict calories and exercise more, you are not alone.

Many women with Lipedema have been made to feel ashamed and guilty. Many women have been told that they have caused their condition by overeating and being lazy. Isn’t that the view of the society we live in? Fat and obese people are deemed lazy with a lack of self-discipline. Simply exercise more and eat less.

Some women do just that: exercise and diet constantly, only to have their painful legs continue to grow in size and heaviness, with the inability to lose weight in the areas that trouble them the most. As a result, women with lipedema experience higher than average rates of eating disorders, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and appearance-related distress.

Lipedema has been largely ignored by scientific research and clinical trials up until recently. Fortunately, Lipedema has finally been given a classification and an international disease code when it was added to the World Health Organization’s International Classification of in ICD-11 September 2020.

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There are four different stages of Lipedema. Most often stages can blend together which results in further confusion. As lipedema develops, the level of pain, tenderness, swelling and fat accumulation  increase. The images below provide an overview of the four stages of lipedema, showing the location of fat build up and resulting body shape at each stage. Different parts of the body can be affected in different ways at each stage.

View more images of the progression of Lipedema and the stages of the condition here. LIPEDEMA FOUNDATION.


Stage 1

Smooth skin with an increase of enlarged subcutaneous fat tissue. Fat buildup around pelvis, buttocks, and hips. Fat buildup from buttocks to knees, with folds of fat around the inner side of the knee.


Stage 2

Uneven skin with cellulitis in the fat tissue and larger nodules of fat tissue (lipomas) able to be seen and felt. A buildup of Fat from buttocks to knees, increased folds of fat around the inner side of the knee. 


Stage 3

Very large extrusion of fat tissue causing deformations of the legs, especially on the thighs and around the knees.Folds of fat around the inner side of the knee increase and extensive fluid retentention.


Stage 4

Development of lipolymphedema — the condition is seen a as comorbidity of where both lipedema and lymphedema are present in the body — with large overhangs of tissue on legs and/or arms

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Lymphedema and Lipedema are two distinct medical disorders.   These two medical conditions are ofte n confused as being the same. Both involve swelling in the arms and legs. In short, Lymphedema is a disorder of the lymphatic system and is commonly caused by dysfunction in the flow of lymph fluid through the arms or legs. In contrast to Lymphedema, Lipedema, it is a pathologic and does not involve the lymphatic system. Lipedema is recognised by symmetric deposition of fat that most often affects the lower extremities and almost exclusively occurs in women.

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Lipedema is a complex female disorder of painful fat accumulation on the lower body. The condition is often misdiagnosed as simply a female form of obesity, which contributes to the high rates of eating disorders, self-blame, anxiety, depression, and appearance-related distress among women with the condition. Read Izette’s story.

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