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Clinical Studies and Practice

Differentiating lipedema and Dercum’s disease

Abstract

Background:

People with lipedema or Dercum’s disease (DD) can have a similar distribution of excess painful nodular subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT), making them difficult to differentiate.

Methods:

Case series of 94 patients with DD, 160 with lipedema and 18 with both diagnoses (Lip+DD) from a single clinic in an academic medical center to improve identification and differentiation of these disorders by comparison of clinical findings, prevalence of type 2 diabetes (DM2), hypermobility by the Beighton score and assessment of a marker of inflammation, Total complement activity (CH50).

Results:

Differences between groups were by Student’s t-test with α of 0.05. The Lipedema Group had significantly greater weight, body mass index (BMI), gynoid distributed nodular SAT and fibrotic and heavy tissue than the DD Group. Hypermobility was significantly higher in the Lipedema (58±0.5%) than DD Group (23±0.4%; P<0.0001). DM2 was significantly greater in the DD (16±0.2%; P=0.0007) than the Lipedema Group (6±0.2%). Average pain by an analog scale was significantly higher in the DD (6±2.5%) than the Lipedema Group (4±2.1%; P<0.0001). Fatigue and swelling were common in both groups. Easy bruising was more common in the Lipedema Group, whereas abdominal pain, shortness of breath, fibromyalgia, migraines and lipomas were more prevalent in the DD Group. The percentage of patients with elevated CH50 was significantly positive in both groups.

Conclusions:

The significantly lower prevalence of DM2 in people with lipedema compared with DD may be due to the greater amount of gynoid fat known to be protective against metabolic disorders. The high percentage of hypermobility in lipedema patients indicates that it may be a comorbid condition. The location of fat, high average daily pain, presence of lipomas and comorbid painful disorders in DD patients may help differentiate from lipedema.

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Acknowledgements

We thank all of the women and men with lipedema and Dercum’s disease whose data was used for this paper, and everyone who has encouraged us over the years.

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Correspondence to K L Herbst.

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Beltran, K., Herbst, K. Differentiating lipedema and Dercum’s disease. Int J Obes 41, 240–245 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2016.205

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