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Medical Science Monitor Basic Research


A Young Woman with Excessive Fat in Lower Extremities Develops Disordered Eating and Is Subsequently Diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, Lipedema, and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Challenging differential diagnosis, Clinical situation which can not be reproduced for ethical reasons, Rare coexistence of disease or pathology

Thomas F. Wright, Karen L. Herbst

USA Department of Surgery, Lipedema Surgical Solutions, O’Fallon, MO, USA

Am J Case Rep 2021; 22:e930840

DOI: 10.12659/AJCR.930840

Available online: 2021-06-01

Published: 2021-06-14


BACKGROUND: Lipedema is a loose connective tissue disease that causes disproportionate subcutaneous fat accumulation on the extremities. As a result of the increased subcutaneous tissue accumulation, lipedema is often confused with obesity by both physicians and patients. Poor awareness and limited diagnosis of lipedema contribute to the confusion of lipedema with obesity and can lead to decreased body image acceptance. Patients with lipedema may have anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by a distortion of body image, incorrect self-identification of being overweight, restricted eating behavior, and a relentless pursuit of weight loss.
CASE REPORT: A young woman with disproportionate fat accumulation on the lower half of her body self-identified as having obesity. She developed restrictive eating behavior and became obsessed with weight loss, resulting in anorexia nervosa. Her disproportionate subcutaneous tissue persisted despite losing weight to reach a nadir BMI of 15 kg/m². After a decade-long struggle, her eating disorder resolved, and she maintained a healthy weight and BMI of 21.5 kg/m² but disproportionate fat remained in her lower body. She experienced increasing leg tenderness, pain, and easy bruising and was diagnosed with lipedema.
CONCLUSIONS: Lack of recognition of lipedema by medical professionals and the public as a weight loss-resistant disease can affect body image acceptance. Lipedema was mistaken for obesity by the young woman in this case and likely played a role in her development of an eating disorder. Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, are not rare and may be more common in women with lipedema.

Keywords: anorexia nervosa, Body Fat Distribution, Lipedema