Imagine spending years trying to lose weight from the lower half of your body, but finding that no diet or exercise regime ever changed your shape.
That is the reality for people who have lipoedema, which may affect as many as 11 per cent of women to some degree. And, according to experts in the condition, many doctors don’t even know it exists.
Lipoedema is a chronic condition that causes an abnormal build-up of fat cells in certain areas - typically the thighs, lower legs and bum, although it can occur on the arms as well.
Men can develop lipoedema, but the majority of cases affect women (the limited research conducted so far shows that it is linked to female hormones) - and because it’s still poorly understood, many of them suffer in silence, without the support and treatment that they need.
"Lipoedema affects about 11 per cent of the population. From 12 years of clinical experience here in the UAE, I would say there is a larger percentage here in the Middle East," Dr Lanelle from The Chiron Clinic told us. "I'm not sure if there are enough statistics, but I will guess and say more like 20 per cent of Emirati women over the age of 40 have some lipoedema."
"From a functional perspective, this is an indication that lymphatic drainage is low and also leaking into fat cells," Dr Lanelle added. "It is most common in the lower limbs due to gravity. Lipoedema is associated with chronic inflammation, and often hormonal dysfunction, and toxicity. From a Chinese medicine perspective we say this is a phlegm picture."
Symptoms of lipoedema include feelings of pain and heaviness, bruising easily, and cold, itchy or flaky skin, as well as the inability to lose weight from the affected area, no matter how hard you work. It doesn’t affect the feet or hands, meaning that a ‘bracelet’ effect often forms around the ankles or wrists. Sufferers may also find that they have small broken veins under the skin.
"The side effects are very debilitating as the fat can cause pain and fatigue, [meaning] leading a normal life can be challenging," Sharie Fetzer, chair of Lipoedema UK, explains. And it’s not just the physical symptoms that have an impact.
Lipoedema usually starts when you go through puberty, and can cause problems in areas such as your sex life and even your career choices. Often, people with the condition struggle to stand on their feet all day, and in some cases, they have to claim disability benefit because the impact is so severe.
The cause of lipoedema is still unclear, and if you think you might have it, diagnosis can be difficult. However, it’s not impossible, there are solutions out there that can help you to make improvements.
Compression therapy can help to reduce the swelling and pain, as can exercising in water, either by swimming or taking aqua aerobics classes (although this will depend on how debilitating your pain is, and whether you feel able). Significant weight gain can make the swelling worse, so it’s advised to avoid obesity if possible. Remember, dieting won’t cure lipoedema, so ensure that your focus is simply on as staying fit, healthy and active as possible.
It’s also important to seek the advice of your doctor - and if they’re not understanding, or come across as dismissive, don’t give up.
The Chiron Clinic is an Integrative Clinic offering Naturopathic & Functional Medicine, Acupuncture, Spinal Alignment, NAET, Therapeutic Massage, & Counseling. Visit thechironclinic.com
H/T Cosmo UK