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Dercum’s disease is a rare condition characterized by multiple, painful lipomas (fatty benign tumors) primarily located on the abdomen and legs. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, it occurs more commonly in women than men. The cause of Dercum’s disease is unknown, but some research has indicated that it may be auto-immune or a disturbance in endocrine function.

This disorder consists of four cardinal symptoms: (1) multiple painful fatty masses; (2) obesity: (3) weakness and fatigue; (4) mental disturbances, emotional instability, depression, confusion and dementia. Lipomas cause nerve compression resulting in weakness and pain.

The diagnosis is based on clinical criteria, physical examination and by excluding differential diagnosis. MRI, CT scan, and biopsies can be helpful.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Dercum’s Disease. Treatment is to address symptoms and pain management. Opiates may help some patients however others find no benefit. Weight reduction helps relieve joint pain. Many patients find relief with lipoma excision relieving stress on nerves and other surrounding structures. Without sufficient efforts at lifestyle changes and diet, lipomas have a higher rate of recurrence.

Strenuous exercise, repetitive motions, lack of sleep, trauma, stress and poor diet can worsen the symptoms of Dercum’s Disease.

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