Lipoedema is the abnormal build-up of fat cells in the legs, thighs and buttocks.
In lipoedema, the legs become symmetrically enlarged from the ankles right up to the hips, but the feet and hands are unaffected. The build-up of fat often creates a ring of fatty tissue overlapping the top of the feet, as if there were tight bands around the ankles.
Because of the increased fat under the skin, the legs can appear pale and feel cold when compared with the rest of the body. The skin feels fatty or doughy, and is often tender and bruises easily. The feet and hands are not affected, although the arms can be occasionally.
Lipoedema can be very painful – women with the condition often complain of aching in the affected limbs and pain in the knees. Women may also experience fluid retention, and in about 60% of cases small varicose veins are seen under the skin surface. Lipoedema occurs almost exclusively in women. It tends to start at puberty or at times of hormonal change, such as pregnancy, and progresses gradually.
The accumulation of fat tends to be worse in people who are obese, but also affects people who are a normal weight. It should not be mistaken for obesity, as dieting does not make any difference to the condition (see Treatment section below). The cause of lipoedema is not known, but there is a family history of the condition in up to 50% of cases.
The fact that it starts in puberty or pregnancy suggests that hormones have an influence.
In rare cases of lipoedema in men, the men have usually been taking hormone therapy or have cirrhosis of the liver.
While the underlying cause is yet unknown DLT as for Lymphoedema is currently the most
effective treatment .