There is no effective medical treatment for lipedema and the prognosis is guarded; however, significant functional improvements are possible with good program compliance and therapy intervention. Medical management involves treating the hormonal disturbance as effectively as possible and providing nutritional guidance to avoid additional weight gain. Many of these individuals have endured years of ridicule because of their physical appearance and become recluses in their homes, further limiting their activity level. As lipedema progresses and the hypersensitivity increases, they feel less inclined to walk or exercise because of the pain. They inevitably gain more weight due to the inactivity and depression, often finding food their only comfort.
The primary goal of therapy intervention in the person with lipedema is symptomatic relief and realistic improvement of trunk and lower extremity function. Application of the combined lymphedema treatments has shown some success in relieving the pain and hypersensitivity in the lower legs and improving general mobility. Usually, a lower level of compression is needed to support a lipedematous limb, compared to a lymphedematous limb of the same size and girth. This guideline applies to the compression garments as well. These individuals often require more padding under the compression bandages, particularly in the anterior tibial area. They do not tolerate the heavier, denser compression fabrics and usually require a lower grade compression garment than someone with uncomplicated lymphedema. The therapist must remember, however, that later stage lipedema is often accompanied by lymphedema as well, and the treatment and management must take that factor into consideration when recommending exercise and garments.
The main goals of intervention are to decrease pain and hypersensitivity, to decrease the lymphedematous component of the disease, and to assist the individual in maintaining and/or reducing adipose tissue through exercise and nutritional guidance. The compression garments can help to decrease the adipose tissue with exercise and weight loss. The most difficult task is fitting the compression garments. They must be custom made due to the large size of the individual and are often uncomfortable at the waist, particularly when sitting. Making the radical change in daily activity level is most challenging for these individuals. Providing continued support and encouragement is important.
Networking is helpful and is facilitated by offering a support group, even when held on an irregular, informal basis. An hour-long educational meeting, even if only offered three or four times per year can provide a neutral meeting place for people to begin networking. Nothing can compare to the encouragement and hope that an individual with lipedema/lymphedema can derive from seeing and talking with some one else living with the same problem and hearing how others cope on a day-to-day basis. Therapists can learn some of the best guidance on exercise and coping with garments in a group like this.