Liposuction and Lipedema

Liposuction, like many plastic surgery procedures, has important medical uses. Liposuction can help patients with a condition called lipedema finding long-lasting relief from the physical and emotional discomfort associated with their illness. If you or someone you know is struggling with lipedema, our board-certified plastic surgeons can guide you on the path towards recovery.

What is Lipedema?

Lipedema is a poorly-understood condition that causes severe, chronic problems with fat distribution and fluid retention. This disease, which primarily affects women, creates disproportionately large deposits of fat on the lower limbs and buttocks, even if the affected woman is otherwise slim. This buildup of fat is not caused by lifestyle factors (like dietary choices) and it does not respond to conventional weight loss methods. Liposuction is the only effective treatment for lipedema.

The fat distribution issues caused by lipedema should not be confused with normal variations in body shape, i.e., having a “pear-shaped” figure. Women with lipedema have extreme proportions; it’s not uncommon for a woman with this condition to have a ten-size difference between her upper and lower halves (such as wearing a size 6 top and size 16 pants). Furthermore, unlike normal fatty deposits, the fat stores created by lipedema frequently cause pain and swelling. If untreated, lipedema can lead to mobility issues, including disability. Lipedema can also be disfiguring; it’s not unusual for lipedemic fatty deposits to clump together and harden, creating visible lumps under the skin.

How Liposuction Treats Lipedema

Noninvasive treatments, like compression stockings, pain medication, and lymphatic massage, are often used by physicians to manage lipedema. However, while these treatments can ease some of the discomfort associated with lipedema, they cannot slow the buildup of fat that invariably accompanies this progressive disease. Liposuction, by contrast, permanently removes problematic fatty deposits. Fat cells that are removed via liposuction will not grow back on their own, so in many cases, liposuction can halt the progression of lipedema.

Liposuction has been shown to greatly reduce pain and mobility issues in patients with lipedema, too: According to a study of 25 patients who received liposuction for lipedema, spontaneous pain flare-ups, sensitivity to pressure, and susceptibility to swelling and bruising all greatly decreased following surgical treatment. Meanwhile, patients reported experiencing significant mobility and quality of life gains. (Liposuction in the Treatment of Lipedema: A Longitudinal Study, Archives of Plastic Surgery, 2014)

How is Liposuction Performed?

During liposuction, a thin tube called a cannula is inserted below the skin. Our doctors then irrigate targeted fatty deposits with a special solution in order to liquefy fat cells and make them easier to remove. This solution contains a local anesthetic that greatly reduces postoperative soreness, along with other compounds designed to limit bleeding and swelling. Once fat is ready for removal, it’s sucked out through the cannula. Liposuction does not require the creation of large incisions, so it rarely causes any visible scarring. It also has a very low rate of complications.

Getting Help for Lipedema

Many women with lipedema are not diagnosed until their condition becomes disabling or disfiguring, which makes treatment more challenging. If you suspect you have lipedema, we recommend arranging a liposuction consultation with our doctors; they’ll help you assess your symptoms and recommend the best course of action. With our help, freedom from the pain and distress of lipedema is possible.