New York, NY – Liposuction is one of the most popular cosmetic procedures performed today. But for women suffering from lipedema, it can be a necessity for successful treatment of a rare but devastating disease. “Lipedema is a disease of lipid metabolism that almost exclusively affects women, typically in their 20s and 30s,” says Dr. David Greuner of Vein Centers Of NYC Surgical Associates. “Studies suggest that 11% of the female population is affected. Often misdiagnosed as ‘lymphedema’, or simply obesity, lipedema is characterized by a bilateral and symmetrical swelling of the lower extremities (excluding the feet), caused by the impairment of the body’s ability to distribute and store fatty tissue along with the enlargement of individual fat cells. This leads to cylinder appearing legs, often described as “cankles,” says Dr. Greuner.
This painful disease can affect overweight and healthy individuals alike and is not affected by weight loss. Women with thin upper bodies and localized fat deposits in the legs are typical of this disease. Although the exact cause of lipedema is unknown, hormonal disorders, stress and heredity have been listed as factors. Lipedema most commonly manifests during puberty, after pregnancy or during menopause. If left untreated, the disease prevents the lymphatic system from its ability to perform one of its most basic functions, the removal of water from the tissues, causing lymphedema, or buildup of water in tissue. If this occurs, fluid will accumulate and swelling develops. The immune system is also affected and the risk for cellulitis – or skin infections – increases.
When lipedema is diagnosed early, it is possible to prevent a significant expansion of diseased fat cells, and to alert patients to their heightened risk so they can take appropriate action.
Lipedema can be diagnosed using clinical history and physical examination. Physical signs of lipedema include: legs which are symmetrically enlarged between the hips and ankles (column leg), a ring of fatty tissue overlapping the top of the feet, the legs can be pale in color and feel comparatively colder than the rest of the body, skin has a dough – like feel, and often varicose veins can be seen under the skin. Patients usually complain about pain in their legs and knees, and tenderness when pressure is applied on the affected areas. The disease can often cause difficulty moving in its later stages.
While there are several conservative treatments that can reduce pain and the development of secondary lymphedema, they do not seem to have a long -term effect on the problematic fat tissue. Therefore, the only successful long term treatment for lipedema is tumescent lymph sparing liposuction. The procedure involves injecting a liquid solution into the legs to help numb the area and reduce blood loss before the unwanted fat is removed.
The patient is awake and assists during the procedure. Data suggests that with tumescent liposuction the surgeon can remove the excess fat and prevent the return of lipedema with little to no side effects. Research shows that lymph sparing liposuction yields good long -term results in reduction of pain and in stopping the progression of lipedema. The need for other therapies such as compression is greatly reduced in almost all patients, and in some cases can be eliminated after liposuction is performed.
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