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Adiposis dolorosa

Adiposis dolorosa

Reviewed July 2012

What is adiposis dolorosa?

Adiposis dolorosa is a condition characterized by painful folds of fatty (adipose) tissue or the growth of multiple noncancerous (benign) fatty tumors called lipomas. This condition occurs most often in women who are overweight or obese, and signs and symptoms typically appear between ages 35 and 50.

In people with adiposis dolorosa, abnormal fatty tissue or lipomas can occur anywhere on the body but are most often found on the torso, buttocks, and upper parts of the arms and legs. Lipomas usually feel like firm bumps (nodules) under the skin. The growths cause burning or aching that can be severe. In some people, the pain comes and goes, while in others it is continuous. Movement or pressure on adipose tissue or lipomas can make the pain worse.

Other signs and symptoms that have been reported to occur with adiposis dolorosa include general weakness and tiredness (fatigue), depression, irritability, confusion, recurrent seizures (epilepsy), and a progressive decline in intellectual function (dementia). These problems do not occur in everyone with adiposis dolorosa, and it is unclear whether they are directly related to the condition.

How common is adiposis dolorosa?

Adiposis dolorosa is a rare condition whose prevalence is unknown. For reasons that are unclear, it occurs up to 30 times more often in women than in men.

What genes are related to adiposis dolorosa?

The cause of adiposis dolorosa is unknown. The condition is thought to have a genetic component because a few families with multiple affected family members have been reported. However, no associated genes have been identified.

Several other possible causes of adiposis dolorosa have been suggested, although none have been confirmed. They include the use of medications called corticosteroids, dysfunction of the endocrine system (which produces hormones), or changes in the deposition and breakdown of fat (adipose tissue metabolism). Researchers have also suggested that adiposis dolorosa could be an autoimmune disorder, which occurs when the immune system malfunctions and attacks the body's own tissues and organs. However, there is no firm evidence that the condition is related to abnormal inflammation or other immune system malfunction.

It is unknown why adiposis dolorosa usually occurs in people who are overweight or obese, or why the signs and symptoms do not appear until mid-adulthood.

How do people inherit adiposis dolorosa?

Most cases of adiposis dolorosa are sporadic, which means they occur in people with no history of the disorder in their family.

A small number of familial cases of adiposis dolorosa have been reported. When the condition runs in families, it appears to have an autosomal dominant pattern of inheritance because affected individuals inherit the condition from one affected parent. This pattern of inheritance suggests that one copy of an altered gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the disorder.

Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of adiposis dolorosa?

These resources address the diagnosis or management of adiposis dolorosa and may include treatment providers.

You might also find information on the diagnosis or management of adiposis dolorosa in Educational resources and Patient support.

General information about the diagnosis and management of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook. Read more about genetic testing, particularly the difference between clinical tests and research tests.

To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.

Where can I find additional information about adiposis dolorosa?

You may find the following resources about adiposis dolorosa helpful. These materials are written for the general public.

You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.

What other names do people use for adiposis dolorosa?

  • adiposalgia
  • adipose tissue rheumatism
  • Anders syndrome
  • Dercum disease
  • Dercum's disease
  • Dercum-Vitaut syndrome
  • lipomatosis dolorosa
  • morbus Dercum

For more information about naming genetic conditions, see the Genetics Home Reference Condition Naming Guidelines and How are genetic conditions and genes named? in the Handbook.

What if I still have specific questions about adiposis dolorosa?

Where can I find general information about genetic conditions?

What glossary definitions help with understanding adiposis dolorosa?

adipose tissue ; autoimmune ; autosomal ; autosomal dominant ; benign ; breakdown ; cell ; dementia ; depression ; endocrine system ; epilepsy ; familial ; fatty tissue ; gene ; immune system ; inflammation ; inherit ; inheritance ; metabolism ; pattern of inheritance ; prevalence ; sporadic ; syndrome ; tissue

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.

See also Understanding Medical Terminology.

References (5 links)


The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.

Reviewed: July 2012
Published: February 8, 2016