Lipedema is a perplexing disease and often a misdiagnosed weight issue. One in nine women in the U.S. have lipedema and don’t even know it. Commonly referred to as a fat disorder, lipedema is often mistaken as a weight problem. The medical diagnosis of lipedema is an adipose tissue disorder that involves the lymphatic system. There are some hallmark traits about this disease, and one of them is that it is a progressive disorder. If left untreated or undiagnosed, it only worsens with each stage.
Dr. Jaime Schwartz is one of the leading lipedema specialists in the country. A board-certified plastic surgeon and lipedema expert, Dr. Schwartz founded Total Lipedema Care (TLC) in Beverly Hills, CA, a center solely dedicated to helping patients with this disease. Lipedema is a progressive disorder that is divided into four distinct stages, but it is never too late to seek help. Below is a detailed description of the stages of lipedema and what to should look for in each one.
An overview of lipedema
Lipedema is relatively common but is often mistaken as obesity. Lipedema is a recognized medical disorder, also known as a lipid metabolism disorder that generally only occurs in women. A typical woman with lipedema exhibits large, fatty-looking legs or hips, which usually are disproportionate to the rest of her body. While rare, lipedema characteristics can even be present in the upper arms. Another staple with this disease, as treated by lipedema specialist Dr. Schwartz in Beverly Hills, CA, is that lipedema fat is unresponsive to diet and exercise. Women who take extreme measures to lose weight will see weight loss in other areas, but lipedema fat is left unchanged.
Five main characteristics of lipedema
Women who seek medical help, especially in earlier stages, often get misdiagnosed as having a weight issue. They are left feeling discouraged, as the undiagnosed disease gets progressively worse. Medical researchers and lipedema specialists like Dr. Schwartz are trying to find more concrete answers to lipedema, but these five definitive characteristics are a starting point for diagnosis:
1. Lipedema is almost exclusively only seen in women.
2. Lipedema appears to be genetic; inherited from other female family members.
3. Lipedema affects women of all sizes.
4. Excess lipedema fat deposits have a particular pattern plus are bilateral or symmetrical. Both legs, hips, and arms are affected not just one. Lipedema fat also stops at the ankles or wrists, so the feet and hands are not affected.
5. Lipedema fat is not affected by regular exercise or a healthy diet, unlike “normal” fat.
The stages of lipedema
There is a staging criterion used by lipedema specialists like Dr. Schwartz to help with diagnosis and treatment options. These defined stages don't take into account a patient’s level of pain, loss of mobility, and quality of life. As lipedema progresses into different stages, the levels of tenderness, pain, swelling, and fat accumulation increases and varies by patient.
Patients generally begin to notice weight gain or fluid buildup. There is an increase in subcutaneous fat tissue in the pelvis, buttocks, hips, or legs. Most women experience a more defined “pear-shape” body type to their appearance. The skin texture is still smooth in this stage. Patients generally feel a little discomfort from swelling and can find relief with wearing compression garments or elevating their legs when they sleep. Massage therapy, maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising plus lymphatic-sparing liposuction are all options for patients in this stage.
There are more visible signs in this stage that generally cause patients more concern. Skin texture begins to change in this stage due to the restriction of blood flow from lipedema fat. No longer smooth, uneven skin indentations start to form, and more massive amounts of fat tissue (lipomas) are visible. This fat accumulation is still soft to the touch. Swelling and inflammation become worse with compression garments providing less relief. Patients in this stage still respond well to treatment options such as lymphatic-sparing liposuction and massage therapy.
The buildup of lipedema fat is more extensive in the target areas. The excessive lipedema fat is more substantial in this stage causing heavy folds of skin. Patients endure constant pain from swelling and inflammation. Skin texture also changes to look marbled or “knotty” and is hard to the touch. Patients are physically inhibited at this stage and find little relief from therapeutic options like massage therapy or compression garments. Lymphatic-sparing or water-assisted liposuction is still a viable treatment option, especially with a lipedema specialist and board-certified plastic surgeon like Dr. Schwartz. Extreme areas of excess lipedema fat are reduced to give patients relief, increase circulation, and improve their mobility.
The most severe stage of lipedema. Patients often have other medical concerns due to their compromised lymphatic system in this stage. With increased swelling and inflammation, patients are dealing with chronic pain daily. Skin texture is thicker and harder to the touch, which only increases the weight issue associated with lipedema. Heavy folds of skin that have formed lead to dermatological problems like skin rashes or severe infections. Water-assisted liposuction and skin removal surgery are viable surgical options in stage IV to improve a patient’s overall quality of life.
An estimated 17 million women in the United States live with this disease, and there is help at any stage. Specialty centers like Total Lipedema Care in Beverly Hills, CA are dedicated to patients dealing with lipedema. From early to more severe stages, a lipedema specialist like Dr. Schwartz will help every step of the way from diagnosis to providing medical and cosmetic solutions.
The professional staff at Total Lipedema Care along with lipedema specialist and board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Jaime Schwartz can help patients manage symptoms and cosmetically improve the way they look regardless of what stage of lipedema they are in. Intervention and treatments can slow down the progression while making you more comfortable living with this disease. If you are concerned you have lipedema, we encourage you to call Total Lipedema Care in Beverly Hills, CA today. Diagnosis and treatment intervention options are crucial, and Dr. Schwartz can help.