Changing Lives with Innovative Care
Woman Gets Treatment for Lipedema, a Fat Disorder
Can you imagine having weight you couldn’t lose no matter how much you dieted or exercised? Can you imagine your doctors not believing you when you said you thought something was wrong?
For Tina Mueller, 52, of Edwardsville, Ill., that had been her story for more than 40 years. “I just kept hearing ‘put the fork down,’ even from my own doctors. I put myself on a super-strict caloric diet so extreme that you could see my rib cage. My face was gaunt, my hands were sticks, but my legs and my arms were still really big. I knew there was something else going on,” says Mueller.
That all changed when she met Donald Buck, MD, a plastic surgeon at Christian Hospital who confirmed that she had a fat disorder called lipedema. Lipedema is a chronic condition that causes fat cells in the arms and legs to grow progressively larger over time. Unlike regular fat, lipedema is extremely resistant to diet and exercise, and can give arms and legs a nodular, folded or column-like appearance. Some reports estimate lipedema affects 11 percent of adult women worldwide, but most go undiagnosed or untreated.
“I just started to cry when Dr. Buck told me this wasn’t my fault,” said Mueller. “That’s really when I got my diagnosis.” While there is no cure for lipedema, Dr. Buck is one of a handful of plastic surgeons in the country who perform a special kind of liposuction that can dramatically improve lipedema patients’ quality of life. The treatment is done in several stages, and removes the problem fat cells — in most cases reducing the size of the limbs.
“This is an incredibly painful disease, both physically and emotionally,” says Dr. Buck. “While patients of any body type can get lipedema, it often can lead people to ‘giving up’ because they just can’t lose the weight. It’s very rewarding to be a resource for people who have been searching for answers.”
Although not much is known about the cause of the disease, it does tend to run in families. It’s found almost exclusively in women and is often brought on by times of stress, puberty, pregnancy or menopause. As was the case for Mueller, lipedema can be exacerbated by a secondary, similar-sounding disease called lymphedema, which causes the body to retain too much fluid. Treatment for lymphedema involves following a special diet and wearing compression garments to reduce swelling.
Dr. Buck sees about three to five new lipedema patients a week, some coming from as far away as Florida seeking treatment. Aside from his work directly with patients, he is also committed to raising awareness about the disease and treatment options in the medical community.
“This isn’t something we’re taught in medical school,” says Dr. Buck. “It’s very commonly misdiagnosed as obesity because many physicians don’t know to look for it, don’t know how common it is, or aren’t aware of the available treatments.”
For Mueller, the relief was immediate. “I always had trouble driving because the pressure of the seat on my legs,” says Mueller. “After my first surgery, I was driving like a normal person. I could get out of my car easily. I couldn’t believe it. I’m also running again. It’s amazing.”
To learn more about lipedema or other fat disorders, or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Buck, call 314.747.WELL (9355).
Read other patient stories or the current issue of Christian Cares magazine.
Christian Hospital and Northwest HealthCare, members of BJC HealthCare, provide world-class medical care to the communities of North County, Greater St. Louis County and Southern Illinois.