Lipoedema is a long term (chronic) condition of fat and connective tissue which builds up in your legs, hips, bottom and sometimes arms. It affects both sides of the body equally.
It’s more common in women and only very rarely affects men. It’s not the same as obesity.
For some people, it can have a big impact on daily routine, physical health and emotional wellbeing.
People with lipoedema usually have a small waist, but large hips and thighs. Their upper body and lower body can be completely different sizes. This makes it difficult to shop for clothes that fit right.
Symptoms can include:
- enlargement of your legs, and in some cases arms, but usually not your feet or hands
- pain, discomfort, heaviness or tenderness affected areas
- affected areas of your body can bruise easily, sometimes for no obvious reason
- dimpled legs with a lumpy texture, fat may bulge at the knees
- swelling that gets worse in the afternoon, evening, after activity or in hot weather
- spider veins or varicose veins on your legs
- difficulty walking due to changes in your leg shape, heavy legs, or ‘flat-feet’
Lipoedema can be linked to mental health problems, for example depression, anxiety and disordered eating.
Speak to your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. They’ll be able to give you help and advice on how to manage your symptoms.
Other health conditions, like lymphoedema, can cause large or swollen legs. Sometimes people with lipoedema can also develop this condition.
The exact cause of lipoedema isn’t known but it may be caused by changes in your hormones:
- during puberty
- when you’re pregnant
- when you’re going through the menopause
- when you’re taking the contraceptive pill
It’s not caused by being overweight – you can be a healthy weight and still have lipoedema.
Lipoedema can run in families so let your doctor know if you think this is the case for you.
Treatment and self-management
Treatment will depend on your symptoms and how they’re affecting you. If your doctor thinks you have lipoedema they may refer you to a specialist for treatment.
Although there’s no cure, there are things which may help.
- maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet – this can also reduce your chances of developing other health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol
- drink plenty of water
- take part in activities you enjoy to keep active like swimming, dancing, yoga or walking
- wear compression garments – tight forms of clothing that help to reduce pain and discomfort, as well as making it easier for you to walk
- look after your skin – using moisturising cream (emollients) regularly will help to stop your skin drying out
- manual lymphatic drainage – a specialist type of massage, which may help to reduce discomfort
- counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – if you’re finding it difficult to cope or if it’s affecting your mental health
Compression therapy uses special compression garments to help manage symptoms. This can help to reduce pain, inflammation, and fluid build up (oedema).
Compression garments are often available on prescription. This can include stockings, socks, leggings, arm sleeves, adjustable wraps and sometimes bandaging.
Your doctor, practice nurse or specialist will recommend the most suitable type of compression garment for you. They’ll also advise you on how to use it.
Lipoedema can affect your quality of life and your mental wellbeing. Talking to someone and getting some extra support can really help.
You’re not alone. Talk Lipoedema have lots of help and advice about living well with lipoedema. They can also put you in touch with other people with lipoedema, so you can share your experiences of the condition.