Lipodystrophy is a relatively rare condition in which people lose fats from certain parts of the body and gain significant fat in others. Sometimes, the fats gather in the organs, like the liver, and can be bad for overall health. In serious cases, the inability to maintain fat across the body can lead to severe health complications or death.
With all of the attention in health circles around losing fat, people often overlook that fat is essential to many critical bodily functions. Fat is required for certain hormones, like leptin. Without fat, the body struggles to process sugars. This can trigger disorders like diabetes and heart disease.
Although lipodystrophy is rather rare, it still affects many people today. Understanding more about the condition and how to spot the symptoms can help you get an early diagnosis and treatment. Here is some information about what you need to know about lipodystrophy.
The Lipodystrophy Basics
Lipodystrophy refers to a condition in which the body has trouble storing fats appropriately. Some parts of the body look normal, others look fatty, and others look gaunt. People with lipodystrophy deal with changes in the way they look. The skin can sag and appear loose due to the lack of underlying fat. Other parts of the body can appear misshapen because of the total lack of fat or excess accumulation of fats.
Sometimes lipodystrophy happens in people with autoimmune diseases, like HIV, because they take strong prescription medicines to treat their conditions. Infections like measles, pneumonia, hepatitis, etc. can also cause lipodystrophy. Doctors are still exploring the underlying causes of the condition. Right now, what we know is what can trigger its occurrence. People with diabetes can experience what is called localized lipodystrophy in places where they inject insulin over and over. As a result, doctors often recommend changing injection sites to reduce the chances of it happening.
Acquired Generalized Lipodystrophy
Not all lipodystrophy is localized. A condition called acquired generalized lipodystrophy, or AGL affects people of all ages. It’s also sometimes referred to as Lawrence Syndrome. It’s most common in children around the age of eight years old. Girls frequently experience higher rates of AGL than boys. The effects of AGL can make a child look much older than they are. It can also make them look frail or sick. Generally speaking, AGL doesn’t cause a lot of issues in small dimpling areas. However, in places with a severe lack of fat, AGL can disrupt normal hormone production and processing in the body.
In most cases, the loss of fat first appears in the face and arms. Then, fat disappears from the legs, hands, and sometimes the feet. It can get severe enough to the point where it looks like you can see muscles or veins under the skin where fat would normally cover them.
Typically, children with AGL, and even adults with the condition, complain of constant hunger. They can grow faster than normal and their hormone imbalance caused by a lack of fat can cause other issues. It can make them develop at different rates than average children their age. Hormonal imbalance can cause the genitals to grow larger than normal, and it can also disrupt normal menstruation cycles.
What to Do
The first thing you should do if you notice symptoms in yourself or someone you know is to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. Seeing a doctor can lead to early treatment to lower or eliminate the symptoms of lipodystrophy. Typically, this involves a skin biopsy. A doctor will cut off a small section of skin in an affected area and study it under a microscope. They’ll look for causes of fat loss, skin thickness, and other indicators. Sometimes patients go through an MRI to examine fat levels throughout the body.
Finally, doctors will order blood tests to measure the levels of fat in your organs and test your blood sugar, and critical enzymes.
Potential Treatment for Lipodystrophy
The most common treatment method for lipodystrophy is a change to a healthier lifestyle. People are often encouraged to eat low-fat diets. Children and other people will have to monitor the calories they eat more closely to guarantee they aren’t losing weight and are still getting the nutrients they need to grow. High levels of physical activity also help to keep blood sugars low and prevent excess fat development.
Tesamorelin is a research peptide used to treat HIV-associated lipodystrophy. Due to its GHRH characteristics, tesamorelin is an effective way to stimulate thermogenesis in certain tissues. Research shows that tesamorelin also changes existing fat deposits so they become denser, thereby shrinking total fat volume.
The research is still early on, though there is hope that tesamorelin can treat diseases into remission and lower the risks of fat deposits and how they increase disease.