How is Dercum’s Disease Diagnosed


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Do you suspect you may be suffering from this highly uncommon fat deposition disorder?  Though still inconclusive, here is how Dercum’s Disease is being diagnosed. 

Dercum’s Disease, medically referred to as adiposis dolorosa, is a rare, and rather unusual, disorder that causes painful, abnormal, and unsightly growths of fatty tissue called lipomas.  These small, benign, fatty tumors generally affect the torso, upper arms, and upper legs and disproportionately affect a far greater number of women than men (approximately 5-30 times more common in females than their male counterparts).  The lipomas begin to appear during a woman’s menopausal years, while increasingly becoming more widespread and prevalent if no surgical intervention is undertaken.

Do I Have Dercum’s Disease?  Symptoms You Need to Discuss with Your Doctor

Reportedly, generalized obesity gives way to the development of Dercum’s Disease and the following symptoms are unmistakable, key characteristics of the rare disorder:

  • Numerous, painful fatty masses that sit just below the skin’s surface
  • Inexplicable loss of strength; feeling of weakness
  • Mental incapacities, such as depression, anxiety, epilepsy, dementia/confusion, impaired memory
  • Persistent lethargy
  • Bruising easily
  • Joint/muscle aches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat/rapid heartbeat
  • Bloating/constipation

Symptoms of Dercum’s Disease are chronic, long-lasting, and progressive unless acute treatment is implemented.  Because of the extreme rarity of the disorder, seeking the advice of a highly-skilled specialist, such as an internist, dermatologist, or endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in treating hormonal and glandular issues) is highly-recommended.

The Dercum’s Disease Diagnosis:  Causes and Cure of this Uncommon Condition

Diagnosing Dercum’s Disease isn’t always easy, and while definitive documentation on diagnosis protocols remains to be seen, diagnosing Dercum’s Disease is currently based on a patient’s comprehensive, detailed medical history, including clinical evaluation and identification of multiple lipomas.  It’s the distribution and progression of these lipomas that is imperative in discerning Dercum’s Disease from other fat deposition disorders, which can get murky.  Most fat deposition disorders’ symptoms overlap, making diagnosing Dercum’s Disease especially challenging.  Because there’s currently no specific laboratory tests to offer conclusive findings, high-resolution ultrasound imaging/MRI is usually implemented in the initial diagnostic process.

While there are also no conclusive causes of Dercum’s Disease offered by the medical community, suspecting triggers include tissue trauma, congenital factors, the consumption of corticosteroids, endocrine system dysfunction, or irregularities in fat breakdown and deposition.  Dercum’s Disease sufferers have yet to see a cure, as well, though nuanced treatment options are available and encouraged to ease pain and reverse physical deformities.  Symptomatic treatment – therapy focusing on treating one symptom at a time, as opposed to treating the entire condition – has proved to be the most successful approach for many patients of Dercum’s Disease.  Treatment options include:

  • Targeted weight reduction,
  • Surgery to remove lipomas
  • Pain medication to mitigate daily discomfort that may be infringing on quality of life and daily activities.

Removal of the fatty lipomas is performed through liposuction or “excision” of each individual lipoma with little to no recurrence in most cases.  A rapidly growing technique gaining traction in the industry is injection lipolysis, which is a minimally invasive procedure that dissolves fat and is similar to the medi-spa body contouring trend.

If you suspect you may have or are developing Dercum’s Disease, we invite you to contact our office for a personal consultation and medical evaluation.  Getting answers through a detailed diagnosis will help get you on the path to customized treatment and recovery.

To learn more, please contact our Beverly Hills, California office to schedule a consultation with any of our highly trained specialists.