What is lipoedema?

Lipoedema is a chronic condition involving an abnormal build-up of fat cells that can have a significant impact on quality of life. While only women are affected by lipoedema, men may pass on the disease.
Lipoedema is triggered by hormonal changes: puberty, pregnancy or menopause cause a rapid increase in fat cells, always at the same locations – thighs, lower legs, the inside of the knee, the hips, buttocks and sometimes also the arms.
The fat cells fill with water, which becomes trapped and causes severe swelling. By Stage III, this can result in grotesque deformities with overhanging folds of skin. These not only restrict movement but are extremely painful.

The three stages of Lipoedema

Stage I - Small fatty nodules

Stage I

Small fatty nodules

Stage II - More pronounced, lumpy fatty nodules

Stage II

More pronounced, lumpy fatty nodules

Stage III - More pronounced, lumpy fatty nodules

Stage III

Deformed lumps of fat

How can lipoedema be treated?

Unfortunately, lipoedema does not respond to exercise or dietary changes; the only real solution is a special kind of liposuction. The conservative treatment methods used initially to manage symptoms, such as regular weekly lymph drainage massage and compression garments do not heal lipoedema. Thus, patients can spend a great deal of time and energy on measures that provide temporary relief, but do not have any lasting effect. As the disease progresses and symptoms worsen, the only solution is the surgical removal of the diseased tissue. This can cure the condition, or, at least, provide lasting relief.

What results can I expect from lipoedema surgery?

The surgical removal of the diseased tissue using liposuction has many benefits:

  1. Reduction of volume with simultaneous improvement of lymphatic drainage
  2. Little to no pain due to relief of pressure receptors
  3. Improved appearance
  4. Ease of movement, mobility, motivation to exercise and eat well
  5. Damage to the joints, as well as knock-knees, can be avoided
  6. Progression of the disease is halted

How is the treatment carried out?

Gentle waterjet-assisted liposuction (WAL) removes the fat cells with pathological changes while leaving the connective tissue structures, blood vessels, lymphatic system and nerves intact. This allows extremely pleasing aesthetic results can be achieved. The surgical procedures last around 90 – 180 minutes and are performed under general anaesthetic.

As a rule, a standardised lipoedema surgery should be performed on an inpatient basis. Large volumes of fat may be removed during lipoedema surgery. In the interests of patient safety and to avoid any complications, a maximum of 10% of the body weight in litres of fat should be removed. The surgical area should also be kept to a minimum, which is why lipoedema needs to be treated in several stages.

Can any surgeon perform lipoedema surgery?

It depends how frequently that surgeon performs lipoedema procedures! Always verify how often your surgeon carries out such surgeries. It’s a good idea to exchange experiences about surgical results online (self-help groups, lipoedema associations etc.) and don’t rely solely on “5-Star” reviews.

Ideally, such extensive and complex surgery should only be performed by a specialised surgeon at a specialised clinic.

Make sure that when you first contact the clinic, you surgeon takes enough time for consultation and to fully answer any questions you may have. Lipoedema is a very complex condition. As such, a brief consultation is not sufficient to discuss all the relevant factors, as well as a patient’s specific situation.

What happens next?

Your tailor-made flat-knit compression garments will be applied directly after surgery. This is followed by a long recovery period with lymph drainage massage for up to one year. In general, the pain typically associated with lipoedema disappears immediately. Bruising and swelling are temporary. The improvement in appearance is lasting, which has a positive knock-on effect on the patient’s mental health and self-esteem. Many patients report feeling like they started a new life after surgery.

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