Dercum's Disease Explained

Understanding Dercum's Disease

Dercum’s disease is a very rare disorder. This disease is characterized by multiple painful growths of lipomas (fatty tissues). The growths of Dercum’s disease usually affect the trunk, upper legs, and upper arms. The growths are usually found right below the skin and the pain of Dercum’s disease is often very severe. The pain is caused from the growths’ pressing of the nerves of the body. Many scientists and researchers are unable to find the exact cause of this painful disease.

This disease is extremely sporadic and can occur out of nowhere.

There has been some research that suggests that Dercum’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that makes the immune system attack the healthy tissue. In some cases, Dercum’s disease runs in families, showing us that there may be some genetic link in this disease. Dercum’s disease may be passed down through a autosomal dominant trait in these genetic related cases. Dercum’s disease is more common in women than in men. Statistics shows that women are diagnosed with Dercum’s disease 20 times more than men. The majority of women with Dercum’s disease are between the ages of 45-60, obese, and postmenopausal. Because this disorder is so rare, it is usually under diagnosed. Therefore, there is no accurate statistic of the prevalence of Dercum’s disease.

Like stated before, a specific characteristic of Dercum’s disease is the slow growth of multiple and painful fatty tissues that are found just below the skin.

The pain associated with Dercum’s disease can vary from a mild discomfort to a severe and aggravating pain when the growth is touched or pressed. Many people with Dercum’s disease describes the pain as “all of the fat hurts”. In most cases the pain can persist for hours at a time and it can either come and go or last continuously.

In more serious cases, the pain would worsen with movement and activity. Although the exact reason of the pain is unknown, many suspect that the pressing of the nerves causes the pain. The lipomas that press on the nerves can range in various parts of the body such as the trunk, upper arms, upper legs, head and neck.

Some side effects of Dercum’s disease may include the swelling of various parts of the body, especially the hands. There is no found cause for the swelling. However, the swelling would subside after time without any needed treatment. Another common side effect of Dercum’s disease is weight gain. Other symptoms that are associated with Dercum’s disease include headaches, stiffness, the tendency to bruise easily, fatigue, weakness, depression, a weakened immune system, and memory or concentration problems. Health problems that are associated with this disease include high blood pressure (hypertension), arthritis, sleep disorders, congestive heart failure, underactive thyroid, dry skin, swelling of the lips and nose, dry eyes, mental deterioration, and myxedema.

There is not specific treatment for this disease. Usually the treatment given is directed towards the various symptoms of each individual. The treatment for Dercum’s disease is to reduce the pain caused by the growths, not to rid the disease. Many physicians use various analgesics and painkillers to reduce the pain many patients experience. Corticosteroids injection, intravenous administration of lidocaine have also been tried to reduce the pain. Cortisone injections can treat the growth’s pain in specific locations of the body. Some even tried liposuction and the surgical removal of the fatty tissues around the joints to temporary relieves the pain. However, the growths always grow back. Other than these treatments, the only other option is pain management counseling, psychotherapy for the patients to cope with this severe long-term pain.

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