All About Dercum’s Disease and Lipedema Patients

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Patients with Dercum’s disease (DD) and those with lipedema have similar characteristics of excess fat distribution in the subcutaneous adipose tissue, which can make it difficult to tell the two conditions apart. Clinical studies have been done comparing patients with Dercum’s disease, lipedema, and a combination of both to help improve separating and identifying these disorders. Both are considered fat disorders and have specialists like Dr. Jaime Schwartz in Beverly Hills, CA, working to give patients a proper diagnosis as well as treatment options. 


Dr. Schwartz is a leading expert and renowned plastic surgeon who founded Total Lipedema Care (TLC) as a place where patients could turn for help when struggling with conditions like lipedema. Finding the right support and a proper diagnosis is the first step for those suffering from painful fat disorders like Dercum’s syndrome or lipedema disease. Here is a look at how the two conditions can seem similar but are also quite different. 

An overview of Dercum’s syndrome

Dercum’s disease, also known as DD, is a rare disorder that consists of an accumulation of fatty tissue (lipomas) just below the skin’s surface. These growths in the subcutaneous tissue can occur in the upper arms, upper legs, or midsection. Pain is often associated with this disease and can become quite severe, as lipomas can begin pressing on nearby nerves. Dercum’s disease occurs in more women than men, much like lipedema, and is predominantly seen in adults. Dercum’s symptoms can include excessive weight gain, lethargy, confusion, and depression. It is a perplexing, rare disorder, and the cause is still unknown. 

Common Dercum’s symptoms

The main characteristic of this disorder is a slow formation of painful fatty tissue growths or lipomas, found right below the skin’s surface. Some Dercum’s patients experience mild discomfort while others endure more severe pain. The pain can last for a few hours, or it may come and go continuously throughout the day. In the most severe cases of Dercum’s disease, the pain worsens with movement and isn’t only triggered by touch. The main reason for this is that Decrum’s lipomas accumulate near nerve endings. These lipomas can be found in almost every part of the body except the neck and head. Generally, the upper arms, upper legs, and midsection are the most affected areas. 

Additional Dercum’s symptoms

Unlike lipedema, Dercum’s disease can cause patients to experience swelling in their hands or feet. Swelling and inflammation due to Dercum’s syndrome may occur for no apparent reason, and unlike with lipedema, may disappear without treatment. Additional symptoms of Dercum’s disease include headaches, stiffness of the joints after resting, fatigue, tendency to bruise easily, and lack of mental clarity. Studies have shown that patients with Dercum’s have bouts of irritability, memory problems, lack of concentration, and struggle with depression. Dercum’s syndrome has also been linked to hypertension (high blood pressure), arthritis, congestive heart failure, sleep disorders, dry eyes, and myxedema (a condition linked to an underactive thyroid). 

The cause of Dercum’s disease

The exact cause of Dercum’s disease is unknown. Rarely seen in men, it appears to be a genetic disorder passed down from other female family members and is brought on by hormonal changes in a woman’s body. However, many reported cases of this condition are sporadic (the only case to occur in the family). Medical research shows that Dercum’s disease appears to be an autoimmune disorder. 

 

Differentiating between lipedema and Dercum’s disease

Individuals with Dercum’s and lipedema display a characteristic of excessive fatty tissue or buildup in the subcutaneous tissue. Lipedema patients seem to have a significantly greater weight issue, higher body mass index (BMI), and denser tissue or mass accumulation in specific target areas when compared to patients with Dercum’s or DD. Patients with DD appear to have more of an issue with Type 2 diabetes, more severe pain associated with fatty lipomas, and more lipomas in other places throughout the body. Dercum’s patients also experience more symptoms of fibromyalgia, migraines, and shortness of breath when compared to patients with lipedema. 

The similarities between these two fat disorders can make it difficult to diagnose either one. Scheduling a consultation with lipedema specialist and board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Jaime Schwartz can be life-changing for patients struggling with either disorder. The location of fat, presence of fatty lipomas, a higher average of daily pain, and more prevalence of Type 2 diabetes seen in patients with Dercum’s can help differentiate this fat disorder from lipedema. Dr. Schwartz can do a thorough clinical evaluation, get a detailed patient history, and identify specific characteristics to give patients a proper diagnosis along with determining the treatment they need. 

Although less is known about Dercum’s disease than lipedema, Dr. Jaime Schwartz and his professionally trained staff at Total Lipedema Care will focus their efforts on getting patients the right help. Although there is currently no cure for Dercum’s syndrome, centers like TLC are able to help individuals manage their painful episodes and give them the support they need to enhance their quality of life. 

Research is continually being done on fat disorders like lipedema and Dercum’s disease. Dr. Jaime Schwartz is known throughout the medical community for his research work and excellent surgical results for patients struggling with these types of disorders. Dr. Schwartz and the Total Lipedema Care staff can give you helpful resources, emotional support, and treatment options to help you get your life back. If you are concerned about Dercum’s disease or lipedema, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with Dr. Schwartz at our Beverly Hills, CA, office today. 


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