Dercum's disease is a very rare condition characterized by painful fatty lumps and nodules, called lipomas. Pain may be caused by the lipomas pressing on nearby nerves or by insufficient blood supply to the area and may be extreme and intense, continuous (lasting for hours), or may come and go in spasms. Patients may also experience more diffuse pain throughout fatty tissue. The condition is progressive and becomes worse over time.
Symptoms are usually first seen in adults, and the disease is less common in children and teenagers. The disease is most common in overweight postmenopausal women. However some patients who develop the disease are not obese. In general, Dercum's disease is thought to be a very rare condition.
The cause of Dercum's disease is not clear. Some evidence suggests it may be an inherited condition, but many cases have been reported that do not seem to involve genetic transmission from a parent to a child.
Currently, there is no known cure for Dercum's disease. Treatment focuses on management of symptoms, especially reduction of pain.
General: Dercum's disease is a very rare condition characterized by painful fatty lumps and nodules, called lipomas. The condition is progressive and becomes worse over time.
The painful fat deposits may appear almost anywhere on a patient's body. Very often, they are found on the hips, the inside of the knees, the upper arms, the buttocks, the armpit, or the stomach. Rarely, they are found on the face or hands.
Pain: The pain that patients with Dercum's disease experience may be caused by the lipomas pressing on nearby nerves or by insufficient blood supply to the area and may be extreme and intense, continuous (lasting for hours), or may come and go in spasms. Pain usually increases when a lipoma is bumped or pressed. In some cases, just clothing touching the skin is enough to cause pain. Due to this pain, patients with Dercum's disease may have difficulty performing everyday tasks, such as walking, driving, or lifting objects.
Fatigue: Patients with Dercum's disease often experience fatigue and a loss of strength.
Mental problems: Some mild mental disturbances, including depression, confusion, and memory problems have been reported by patients with Dercum's disease. Some patients may have headaches or difficulty sleeping.
Swelling: For unclear reasons, patients with Dercum's disease may experience swelling of the skin, which can cause the skin to become loose and inelastic.
Numbness: In some instances, patients may experience numbness or a burning sensation in a limb, especially the hands or feet. This is usually caused by a lipoma that is pressing against a nerve.
Impaired heart/lung function: Lipomas may move to the heart or to the lungs and interfere with cardiac or pulmonary function. Although this occurs very rarely, it may lead to a potentially life-threatening situation.
General: Currently, there is no known cure for Dercum's disease. Treatment focuses on management of symptoms, especially reduction of pain.
Drugs: Many drugs commonly used to relieve pain (such as analgesics like NSAIDs or acetaminophen) do not appear to be effective in treating Dercum's disease.
Lidocaine: One drug that has been used to treat Dercum's disease effectively is lidocaine, which is commonly used as an anesthetic. Patients receiving lidocaine intravenously over a 30-90 minute period have reported relief from pain lasting several weeks. Additionally, lidocaine has been administered using a patch. Side effects of lidocaine may include a drop in blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, dizziness, or headache.
Surgery: Surgical removal of lipomas usually is effective in reducing pain for a patient. However, surgery is not considered a cure, as lipomas often grow back after being removed.
Liposuction: Liposuction (a surgical procedure used to remove fat from the body) may be used to treat Dercum's disease. Removal of fat often leads to a reduction in pain in patients and an improved quality of life.
The cause of Dercum's disease is not clear. Some evidence suggests that it may be due to inheritance of a defective gene, but in many cases the disease appears to occur randomly. No gene or mutation that causes Dercum's disease has been identified.
Postmenopausal overweight women appear to have the greatest risk for developing Dercum's disease. Only about one in 20 individuals with Dercum's disease is male. The condition has also been observed in teenagers and children, but it is not as common.
The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.