Lipoedema Treatment – Liposuction Solutions for Fatty Legs & Ankles in NZ

Lipoedema (adiposis dolorosa) is a prevalent adipose tissue disorder that impacts almost 11% of adult women around the globe. It is estimated to affect roughly 1 in 9 adult women. Thanks to celebrities with lipoedema like Shaughna Phillips, this condition has gained quite the momentum. People feel more at ease to open up and talk about their lipoedema experiences.

The Love Island 2020-star stated that her legs were her “biggest insecurity”. After getting diagnosed with the condition, she shared her treatment and recovery journey on social media. The end results are completely stunning. She mentioned she couldn’t believe she had an actually visible calf muscle.

Find out more about lipoedema and its treatment from Specialist Plastic Surgeon Dr Mark Gittos, a leading NZ plastic surgeon in Auckland offering Breast, Body and Face Surgery procedures.

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What is Lipoedema?

Lipoedema is a condition that leads to extra fat and fluid being retained in the lower section of the body. That includes the calves, thighs, and buttocks. In some cases, patients can develop this adipose tissue disorder in the upper area, like the arms. However, it rarely affects the feet or hands.

This disorder comes in different stages, also known as levels of progression. Those with an advanced stage of lipoedema, have the classic “column leg” look. It is accompanied by pain, easy bruising, and a mass of nodular fat.

When diagnosing the condition, it’s important to know how far it has progressed in the body. Whether you are dealing with severe or mild lipoedema. The classification is based on its impact. This includes:

  • Stage I – The surface of the skin appears normal, while the subcutaneous adipose tissue can develop small nodules
  • Stage II – The surface of the skin appears uneven, and the affected area can have bigger nodules
  • Stage III – There is a lobular deformation on the surface of the skin. It leads to deformities and large nodules of the subcutaneous adipose tissue
  • Stage IV – This stage includes the presence of lipolymphedema

Myths and Facts About Lipoedema

There are plenty of misconceptions about lipoedema. The first one is that it is caused by obesity or being overweight. But this is a myth. Lipoedema isn’t just a simple build-up of fat tissue. Even if some patients with lipoedema might also be obese, and obesity can influence their subcutaneous adipose tissue, obesity and lipoedema are not the same.

What lipoedema and obesity have in common is that they are both linked with extra fat accumulation. However, lipoedema is characterised by the peripheral fat localised in the extremities. In lipoedema patients, the waist and abdomen often remain unaffected.

Whereas obesity leads to fat accumulation in the central regions of the body. Mainly the abdomen. It is also accompanied by other diseases, such as spiking cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and risk of heart disease.

Lipoedema is often confused with lymphedema (swelling caused by lymph fluid build-up). These are completely different conditions. Research shows there is a misconception about lipoedema patients that they are actually suffering only from lymphedema. While in reality, 15% to 17% of women receiving lymphedema treatment also have lipoedema.

What Causes Lipoedema ?

Many people want to know what causes lipoedema. The exact reason for this painful fat syndrome remains unknown. But experts believe it runs in the family and could be inherited. This problem is present almost exclusively in female patients.

According to a 2020 research, the presumed causes are:

  • Altered adipogenesis – adipogenesis is a process by which adipocytes (fat cells) accumulate and develop as adipose tissues all over the body. When there is an abnormality, whether it’s caused by hormones or genes, it can lead to fat build-up in the calves, thighs, and buttocks
  • Microangiopathy – this is a disease of small blood vessels (micro vessels) that likely occurs in women with early-stage lipoedema. In later stages, this dysfunction becomes a key contributor to excess tissue fluid
  • Disturbed lymphatic microcirculation – the main function of microcirculation is to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the body and get rid of CO2 (carbon dioxide). It can also manage tissue perfusion and blood circulation. When this process isn’t working properly, lipoedema can occur

This condition typically develops when there is a drastic hormonal change. Especially around menopause, puberty, or when pregnant. The body experiences drastic hormonal shifts, which can have a profound impact on the human body.

How Can I Tell If I Have Lipoedema?

Uneven fat (adipose tissue) distribution in the buttocks and legs will make your thick legs look symmetrically swollen. There is also a fatty area on the outside of the hips and inside the knees. The spot feels cool and “spongy”, whereas the skin appears thin and soft.

Patients with the disorder tend to get easily bruised on the affected spots. So, it’s important to take extra precautions to avoid getting hurt. It’s not uncommon for the lipoedema legs to develop spider/ varicose veins. Increased sensitivity is also present.

The swelling can be more obvious in the evening, afternoon, when it’s hot outside, or you recently did a physical activity. So, how do you know if you have lipoedema or just fat? The fat with lipoedema feels painful and abnormal. The accumulating fat from the disorder makes your skin very tender. When under pressure, it’s easy to bruise, and the affected area might lose its elastic feeling.

lipodema legs

Can Men Have Lipoedema ?

Lipoedema in men is rare. But it can happen. The symptoms of the condition can also be more complex, which is why it’s essential to talk to a specialist. What many patients don’t realise is that this is not a simple disorder, but a progressive one.

Meaning that the signs of lipoedema may start out mild and not that apparent, while in time, they change, worsening and causing pain and discomfort. In its early stages, lipoedema is quite challenging to distinguish from simple weight gain. Particularly in healthy patients.

But in its later stages, the disorder is a lot more evident and takes on multiple characteristics, such as persistent swelling.

How Do You Get Rid of Lipoedema? – Options and Treatments

How do I get rid of fat pockets on my inner thighs? Can lipoedema go away? These are questions that often pop up. If your general health care practitioner believes you have lipoedema, they could refer you to a specialist.

While there is no cure, there are ways to alleviate this painful fat syndrome. The goal of the treatment for lipoedema is to stop the painful fat syndrome from getting worse and curb its symptoms. The primary treatment options include:

  • Liposuction – this lipoedema legs treatment is a practical option for those with severe symptoms. But, sometimes more than one procedure may be necessary to achieve the desired result
  • Healthy eating and physical activity – To keep the condition in check, patients are advised to consume plenty of nutrients and vitamins, do regular physical exercises. This can help maintain optimal weight
  • Skincare – bruising and dry skin are typical problems with lipoedema. That’s where moisturisers (emollients) can help
  • Compression stocking – although wearing compression garments can’t really treat lipoedema, it can make it easier for you to move around, curb the discomfort and pain
  • CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) or counselling – many patients find it hard to cope with this disorder, which is why counselling can make a big difference. It can restore your self-esteem and help you incorporate a healthy lifestyle

How Can Liposuction Help?

Liposuction is the primary surgical intervention for this disorder. The go-to liposuction solutions for lipoedema are water-assisted liposuction (WAL) and tumescent anaesthesia (TA) liposuction. WAL relies on a pressure spray of tumescent fluid to take care of the fat. By forcing it out of the connective tissue.

Tumescent Anaesthesia uses a different approach. It is infused in the subcutaneous tissue and prompts the vessels to constrict and fat cells to swell. The surgeon would then suction the fat out of the body with the help of blunt micro-cannulas. Both of these liposuction solutions can be performed with the patient under local anaesthesia or general anaesthesia.

So, how long does liposuction for lipoedema last? According to 2021 reports, the positive effects of the procedure can last for 12 years. Liposuction for lipoedema paves the way for a permanent reduction in the need for conservative therapy. And the reduction in symptom severity.

Why Choose Dr Mark Gittos Plastic Surgeon?

Not all Surgeons have the same experience or intensive training and testing qualifications. Be sure you learn the differences between a Plastic Surgeon, a General Surgeon, Cosmetic Surgeon or other types of Surgeon.

Choosing a Specialist Plastic Surgeon means you are choosing an accredited recognised plastic surgeon that performs surgery in an accredited hospital.

Dr Mark Gittos is a highly experienced, fully qualified specialist plastic surgeon with current FRACS memberships.

Lipoedema Treatment FAQs

Can losing weight help lipoedema?

  • Lipoedema isn’t obesity, and it’s not the patient’s fault that they’ve developed this condition. This painful fat syndrome literally means “fluid in the fat”. Working out and dieting won’t get rid of the lipoedema fat. But, managing your weight and eating healthy can help you keep the discomfort and pain at bay.

Is lipoedema an autoimmune disease?

  • Lipoedema is a progressive connective tissue disorder that’s typically misdiagnosed for obesity. The tell-tale sign of this disease is the disproportionate distribution of fat across the extremities. While the feet, hands, and trunk remain slim.

Is lipoedema a real disease?

  • Even if there is no cure for the condition, patients can still live a full life and learn to slow the progression of this condition. But it’s important to differentiate lipoedema from cellulite. Lipoedema is a medical condition, whereas cellulite is a harmless cosmetic problem. Lipoedema causes uneven, bumpy, swollen, and dimpled skin. Cellulite also leads to dimpled and uneven skin. But it doesn’t cause swelling, bruising, and pain.

What is the best diet for lipoedema?

  • Due to its superior low-glycaemic and anti-inflammatory compounds, the Mediterranean lifestyle remains a widely embraced lipoedema diet. Although more research is necessary to study its long-term impact, the diet can help with decreasing fat mass in the lower and upper limbs. It is also good for your overall health.

What foods cause thigh fat?

  • The greatest culprits are sugary treats, pastries, bread, white rice, pasta, and soda. Munching on too many refined carbs can make you pile a few extra pounds. Some of that fat can make the thighs bigger. But, lipoedema and obesity are completely different. Lipoedema is a medical condition, and eating healthy can curb some of its symptoms.

Is lipoedema the same as lymphedema?

  • Lymphedema and lipoedema are completely distinct medical conditions. Although both cause swelling in the legs and arms. Lymphedema impacts the lymphatic system. While lipoedema is pathologic and causes asymmetric fat deposition.

Why fat ankles are called Cankles?

  • “Cankle” is an informal way of combining two words “calf” and “ankle”. People use it to point out that they can’t see the ankle because of the abnormal accumulation of fat cells or fluid build-up.

Why are my inner knees fat?

  • Many factors can impact the inner knees. Sometimes, there could be fat pads typically referred to as “saddlebags” that don’t go away with exercise or diet. If these fat pads are causing you problems, like pain or discomfort, then they could indicate lipoedema.

Why are my thighs fat?

  • The thighs get bigger when you put on weight or your hormones are driving the increase in fat cells. With a hormonal imbalance, it’s not uncommon to see the thighs or buttocks accumulating fat.

Is liposuction for lipoedema covered by insurance?

  • Most insurance companies take care of the expenses for lipoedema surgery. That’s because this is a disease and a surgical procedure is necessary to mitigate the ailment. Talk to an insurance provider in your region to find out more details.

Further Reading and References about Lipoedema

About Dr Mark Gittos FRACS (Plast) – New Zealand Plastic Surgeon 

Practice locations in Herne Bay Auckland, Northland and Bay of Plenty – Kerikeri, Whangarei, New Plymouth & Tauranga

Dr Mark Gittos is a leading Specialist Plastic Surgeon and operates a practice in Herne Bay, Auckland and in the UK. The practice focuses on both surgical and non-surgical procedures, each designed to help restore, improve or change a physical characteristic or problem. The first step in every case is to talk through your personal requirements and explore all the options, before deciding on the most effective solution.

Dr Mark Gittos offers high quality, natural-looking cosmetic surgery results and is highly experienced in BreastBody and Face Surgery having performed over 4000 Surgeries in the last 26 years.  With worldwide expertise Dr Gittos is an expert in breast, face and body surgery for men & women.

Naturally, before any treatment is begun, we will explain clearly the advantages and risk factors; so that you have the information you need to make an informed decision that is best for you. Visit the practice to find out more.


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What to Bring to your Plastic Surgeon Consultation

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  • Bring your medical referral and any relevant medical documents or test results

Book your Initial Surgery Consultation

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  • Email us or Call on 09 529 5352 to arrange your surgeon consultation appointment.
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