Lipedema patients suffer from enlargement of the buttocks and legs (and sometimes the arms) due to the deposition of abnormal fatty tissue. It is often confused with obesity or lymphedema but is distinctly different from those two problems. The fatty tissue of lipedema is filled with inflammation and is associated with pain and easy bruising. In contrast, lymphedema is abnormal collection of fluid and is painless. Lipedema is hereditary and occurs independent of calorie intake. The spectrum of lipedema ranges from mild enlargement of the calf (often referred to as “cankles”) to large disfiguring fat deposits in the lower half of the body. Lipedema usually begins around a time of hormonal stress such as puberty, pregnancy, or menopause.
Women with lipedema can be small on top but large on the bottom so it is sometimes referred to as the “two size syndrome.”
Lipedema tends to run in families, often patients will remark that they got their mother’s legs. Lipedema is not the result of overeating and it is not your fault. Many lipedema patients have a distinctly normal waist and chest above the enlarged buttocks and legs. Unfortunately, lipedema fat will not go away even with calorie restrictive diets, intense exercise, or “stomach stapling” surgery. Treatment consists of lymphatic massage, compression, an anti-inflammatory diet, and occasionally specialized lymph sparing liposuction. Lipedema is actually quite common and may affect up to 11% of women, unfortunately, even though it was described in 1940 at the Mayo Clinic, few physicians are familiar with the disorder. So few in fact, that lipedema patients often through many doctors over many years before they get diagnosed.
Dr. Tapper is one of only a handful of doctors who are interested in helping lipedema patients and the only surgeon in Florida actively caring for lipedema patients. Dr. Tapper has been diagnosing lipedema for over 5 years but had little to offer other than MLD and the names of an endocrinologist here in the US and 2 surgeons in Germany whose work he had read. He met them all at a meeting in St. Louis 4/2016 and that set off a cascade of events. He completed a tour of Germany in May 2016 to learn lymph sparing liposuction techniques from Dr. Josef Stutz and Dr. Stefan Rapprich.
However, after 3 years of study Dr. Tapper has decided to stop doing liposuction for lipedema.