Using liposuction to treat lipoedema gives patients a longed-for answer to the symptoms of this condition. There is no cure for lipoedema, but treatments can relieve symptoms. Liposuction surgery gives lipoedema sufferers a chance to reclaim their lives without the repercussions of the condition getting in the way.
Lipoedema (also known as lipedema) is a disorder that causes a build-up of adipose tissue (or fatty tissue) in the legs, thighs, buttocks, and sometimes the arms. Lipoedema mainly affects women and can cause debilitating symptoms. These include enlargement, swelling, and pain in the legs, thighs, and buttocks. The bulkiness of the legs and arms often stops abruptly at the ankles, giving a kind of “cuffing” or “braceleting” at the ankles, while the feet and hands aren’t affected. There may be unexplained bruising, joint pain, sensitivity, and pain on touch. Lipoedema areas are often resistant to weight loss. In severe cases, patients can experience reduced mobility or unusual gait which could be due to the size of the legs or lack of muscle tone in the legs.
Liposuction breaks up subcutaneous fat from beneath the skin and suctions it away. For lipoedema patients, this reduction in fatty tissue in the legs and buttocks reduces pain and bruising. A reduction in the bulky tissues can also help with mobility issues caused by lipoedema. And patients often report a renewed quality of life after this treatment.
Tumescent liposuction is performed on regions of lipoedema under local anaesthetic, allowing small areas to be treated, and the patient to be awake but comfortable throughout the procedure. Tumescent anaesthesia is a general anaesthetic diluted with adrenaline and saline. The treatment area is numbed by this combination of fluids, the blood vessels constrict, reducing bleeding during surgery. Importantly, these fluids help break up the lipedema fat, making it easier to suction out.
Once the anaesthetic has been administered, a very small incision is made on the skin, through which a special cannula is inserted. This is moved back and forth in a fanning motion amongst the dislodged subcutaneous fat. The cannula helps to further dislodge the fat cells, as well as suctioning and drawing them out of the body.
After liposuction, there will be swelling, numbness, and bruising, possibly for several months. This is not a quick fix, however, lipedema patients can expect to see improvement in their lipoedema symptoms during their recovery, and even more so after they have fully recovered from the liposuction.
Access to liposuction as a treatment for lipoedema is not currently covered under Medicare in Australia. However, lipoedema groups have been calling for the Department of Health to have Medicare fund treatment aids and surgery for lipedema patients, and we hope that this will happen soon so that lipedema sufferers can get access to a wider range of treatments.