Am I Just Fat or Is It Something Else? Why It Might Be Lipedema

For years, patients with this condition have gone undiagnosed, but new medical studies and additional research is shedding new light on this disease that mainly affects women. Lipedema is often mistaken for a weight issue, but changes in diet and exercise won’t change this condition. Lipedema is a fluid-like fat buildup that involves certain target areas. This genetic disease has the medical community and lipedema experts like Dr. Jaime Schwartz continually looking for answers to assist in diagnosing the condition.

Total Lipedema Care in Beverly Hills, CA, is one of the leading centers in the country dedicated to helping women get a proper diagnosis. Board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Jaime Schwartz founded TLC with a mission to give women with this condition answers, treatment options, and solutions on how to live a better life. For those who are struggling with lipedema but have yet to be diagnosed, finding the right specialist and getting the correct diagnosis are the first steps in pursuing the help you may need. Here’s what you need to know and what you should look for if you are concerned that you may have lipedema.

Am I just gaining weight or do I have lipedema?

A common misconception when women are struggling with this disease is that it revolves around extra weight. Until they are diagnosed, women think they are just gaining weight and it is a lifestyle issue. The problem with lipedema is that the weight gain involves only certain target areas. Generally, a woman’s lower extremities are affected, such as the legs, butt, hips, or flank area, leaving their upper torso smaller in comparison. Female patients may have an extreme pear-like shape or "triangle" body type that gets more pronounced as the disease progresses.

The main factor to consider is that lipedema fluid buildup doesn’t affect a woman’s hands or feet. When swelling or inflammation is present in those areas, a patient may be dealing with something other than lipedema.

Exercise doesn’t help

Regular exercise and a healthy diet are elements that can help lipedema patients curb symptoms that come with this disease. However, a common characteristic of lipedema is that exercise and dieting won’t change the excessive buildup in the target areas. Many women think they are gaining weight, and some take drastic measures to lose weight as they notice their body changing. Extreme dieting or exercising won’t eliminate "fatty fluid" buildup in the legs or hips — those target areas remain the same while most women begin to notice visible changes in their upper torso or face due to weight loss. As target areas remain unresponsive, this can also lead to other problems like eating disorders or depression while the disease progresses. Talking with a lipedema specialist like Dr. Schwartz will help determine if your weight gain is lipedema-related, and if so, can be the first step in getting the help you need.

Genetic disease

Lipedema research and studies have found that this progressive disorder does have a genetic link. The disease shows a common thread of being passed down through female family members. Looking back at grandmothers, aunts, and mothers can show patients the hallmark signs of the disease — the disproportionate body type or extreme pear-like shape with excessive fatty buildup in the lower extremities or upper arms. Lipedema may also have progressive changes if it goes undiagnosed. Older generations may not have known they had this debilitating disorder, and as a result, became immobile. Dr. Schwartz will make a concerted effort to examine a patient’s family and medical background to check for genetic markers related to this disease.

Lipedema is a progressive disorder

Lipedema is a chronic disease that, according to studies and research, progresses into four different stages. Each stage has a distinct set of characteristics attached to the target areas and how a woman’s body is responding to the disease. In earlier stages, the skin on the target areas looks the same, but the lower half of the body will start taking on a more disproportionate look. Also, swelling and inflammation begin to be more painful and more common in those target areas. As patients progress into the middle stages, the excessive fluid buildup increases, which causes more inflammation. Compression garments or propping up the legs may no longer provide relief. The skin also begins to change in appearance and texture due to the excessive fatty buildup becoming heavier and more hardened. Skin looks more "marble-like" in appearance and target areas become more sensitive to touch. Treating patients before they enter the fourth phase of lipedema can only benefit their overall quality of life.

Dr. Jaime Schwartz and his professional staff at Total Lipedema Care in Beverly Hills, CA, are committed to helping fight this disease. One of the first steps is seeking out a lipedema specialist like Dr. Schwartz so you can get the right diagnosis and start receiving treatment. If you think you may have lipedema, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with Dr. Schwartz today.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.