What is Lipoedema?

In Lipoedema the hips, buttocks and legs of women who have it are out of proportion with the rest of their body. The amount of Lipoedema a woman has and the way it is distributed on her legs and hips, varies between women, some may just have small pockets of fat above the ankles for example, while in others there’s an obvious discrepancy in size between their upper and lower body. Lipoedema can also develop in the upper arms.
Lipoedema is most likely to appear at puberty, before which time a young person will most likely have had a ‘normal’ body shape However Lipoedema can also appear during other hormonal changes. Lipoedema can be very distressing when a young woman finds certain areas of her body do not reduce in the same way as her friends and family despite following the same healthy diet and exercise routines.

Unlike normal weight gain caused by over-eating or lack of exercise, Lipoedema fat often (but not always) hurts when banged or scraped, even gently and it can bruise easily but, again, not all women experience this. 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; softer and dimpled, like cellulite. Even women with Lipoedema who’ve developed Anorexia Nervosa can still display clear physical symptoms.
Women with Lipoedema can be more prone to:

Lymphoedema
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
Varicose veins are a common problem for women with Lipoedema. Wearing compression hosiery will help prevent them.

Knee Pain
Women with Lipoedema will frequently complain of knee pain which may be diagnosed as Osteoarthritis.

Obesity
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 the conventional sense.
Women with Lipoedema frequently try to control the size of their limbs by dieting without success. Many who are accused of overeating when they are not will ‘give up’ trying to eat healthily and then become obese. Eating disorders are not uncommon, including under-eating, over-eating and over-exercising.

Psychological Impact
Living with Lipoedema can be challenging, especially as it is so poorly understood by most health professionals and often misdiagnosed as obesity. This denies the sufferer access to expert services and often leads to psychological problems when it is inferred that the Lipoedema is the result of poor self-control and over-eating. Difficulty in finding clothes that fit and poor self-image often lead to a lack of social confidence.

This has been prepared from information published by and with the permission of LIPOEDEMA UK. Thank you!

Therapy for Lipoedema

Centre4Health offer the following therapies which are recommended to help manage Lipoedema and help prevent new problems such as Lymphoedema and varicose veins developing.

Compression Hosiery
Compression hosiery is specially made support socks, stockings, tights or garments. Wearing compression hosiery is the single most effective way of slowing down or preventing worsening symptoms.

Compression garments encourage the flow of blood and lymph fluid within the lymphatic system which helps prevent fluid retention/oedema in the tissues and the onset of Lymphoedema. In addition fluid within the tissues is encouraged to move towards the root of the limb, where it can be drained away more easily. Therefore wearing compression garments will hopefully stop the progression of Lipoedema into Lipo-lymphoedema.
Compression therapy may also reduce the level of pain and discomfort often experienced in the limbs by supporting soft tissues and painful knee joints. In addition they provide support to the loose connective tissues and help improve appearance, streamline and redefine the shape of the the limbs.
Lymphoedema nurses are trained to assess and prescribe the type and style of compression garments that are most appropriate for each individual as people with lipoedema often require made to measure garments. There is a wide selection of compression hosiery available from different companies, many on prescription.
Compression is most effective when worn every day and is advisable even in the early stages of lipoedema. Getting it on and off may take practice as for some people pain can makes this more difficult. Most people find it easier to put on hosiery first thing in the morning, when the legs are at their smallest and using specially designed donning and doffing aids can be a great help.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)
MLD is a specific type of gentle massage that is used to stimulate lymphatic flow thus helping reduce oedema (fluid build up). It is also useful to reduce pain and discomfort. It is most effective when combined with other treatments such as compression bandaging and/or compression garments. It is performed by specially trained therapists and it is essential that qualifications are checked before embarking on a course of treatment. Many women say it helps to reduce Lipoedema pain. It is best used in conjunction with compression hosiery.