Victoria Albano knows what some people think when they see her - that she just gave up on herself.
"All this working out and exercising and all this taking care of myself wasn't doing anything," Albano said.
When Albano, now 45, was in her thirties, her arms and legs were growing disproportionately bigger. A doctor treating her for an unrelated injury told her it could be lipedema, a genetic issue that distributes fat in an irregular way, mostly on the hips and legs.
Lipedema affects about 11 percent of women. No one is sure what causes it, but doctors think female hormones play a role because it affects mostly women and it can worsen at puberty, pregnancy and menopause.
"Lipedema can get bad enough where the patient is basically bed-bound," said Dr. David Greuner, a cardiovascular surgeon.
The build-up and blockage can prevent proper draining of lymph fluid which can lead to infections, delayed wound healing and loss of leg function.
Treatments include manual lymphatic drainage, which is like therapeutic massage and the use of stretch bandages for compression.
Greuner uses a new liposuction-like procedure to remove the dysfunctional fat cells, making small incisions in the legs. Doctors can first flush the fat, then vacuum it away while leaving the vessels intact.
"We can't remove all the lipedemanous fat - it's not possible - but we can significantly decrease the burden," Greuner said.
Albano plans to have her surgery soon. It will take a year to 18 months to see the full impact, but she's excited to get her life and limbs back.
"I'm very excited, very excited," Albano said.
Dysfunctional fat cells sucked out with liposuction-like procedure
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