About 11% of the population of American women are misdiagnosed each year. Their doctors tell them that they’re obese when actually, they have a condition known as lipedema. Lipedema is a chronic disease characterized by an abnormal build-up of fat cells in the arms, thighs, and calves. This fat build-up creates a disproportionate appearance in the body and it can cause patients pain as well as limiting their mobility.
Lipedema a disease that almost exclusively afflicts women. Doctors aren’t educated about it in medical school, so women who have this disorder are often told to go home and diet and exercise even though lifestyle changes don’t have an effect on the abnormal lipedema fat cells in the body. There are no lab tests that can confirm that a woman has lipedema so diagnosis of the disease is based on observations of the fat distribution on the body.
Doctors look for extreme swelling of the leg that causes the legs to enlarge disproportionately from the hips to the ankles. The inflammation can cause the patient to experience tenderness, bruising, and pain. Often patients have trouble moving around because of the pain and the weight in the legs.
Many doctors mistake lipedema for lymphedema, a disorder that often occurs in tandem with lipedema. Lymphedema occurs when the lymph system becomes blocked so that wastes and bacteria cannot be properly filtered from the body. Often, lipedema causes lymphedema because the density of the fat cells blocks the normal circulation of the lymph fluids, causing additional swelling and a risk of infection.
Liposuction is a type of plastic surgery that involves the removal of excess fat from the body using a cannula. There are different types of liposuction surgery used to make cosmetic changes, but for lipedema patients, the primary goal of liposuction is to reduce infections, diminish pain, and improve mobility. Water-assisted liposuction is the technique of choice for plastic surgeons who perform liposuction surgery for lipedema because it’s gentle, but still effective.
The intense pain that many women experience as a result of lipedema can be relieved through liposuction surgery. Getting the surgical procedure early in the course of the disease is desirable to prevent the development of fibrotic tissues and mobility issues. Doctors who perform liposuction for lipedema urge patients to seek liposuction treatment early because lipedema can be life threatening. Abnormal lipedemic fat cells can compress the normal blood and lymph vessels which can lead to skin ulcers, blood clots, and infections.
The liposuction surgery used for lipedema is an out-patient procedure performed under sedation and local anesthesia so the patient remains conscious, but doesn’t feel any pain. Tiny incisions are made on the legs or the arms and the doctor inserts a small cannula into these incisions. A pressurized stream of saline is sprayed at the fat cells to gently dislodge them. Then, the cells are sucked up through the cannula. Blood and lymph vessels are left unharmed during the procedure.
Insurance companies often will not cover liposuction because in most cases, this is a procedure that’s performed for cosmetic, rather than medical reasons. But some patients, with perseverance, have gotten reimbursements for lipedema liposuction. Other patients pay $8000 to $12,000 out-of-pocket per liposuction treatment. Patients can expect to lose 6 to 11 pounds of fat from each liposuction treatment.