Lipomas and Fibromyalgia

A rare disease may be the connection

Lumps and bumps under the skin can have a variety of causes. Some are more concerning than others. One possibility is that they are lipomas. These are non-cancerous tumors made up of fat cells.

Anyone can develop lipomas, and people with fibromyalgia are no more likely to have them than others. Still, it's important to take note of lipomas if you have this condition.

Lumps under the skin in a person with fibromyalgia may be a sign of an extremely rare condition called Dercum's disease. The right diagnosis can help you get treatment and symptom relief.

This article describes the symptoms of Dercum's disease. It looks at the connection between lipomas, fibromyalgia, and Dercum's disease. And It also lists some treatment options to talk about with your healthcare provider.

Symptoms

Lipomas most often have a soft, rubbery texture. They tend to grow slowly, often staying the same size for years. They are rarely life-threatening.

In most people, these lumps are painless and small (less than half an inch). In others, they can grow to as much as 2 inches. They may become painful.

When people with fibromyalgia talk about lipomas, they are usually the large kind. The pain may be worse than what other people experience.

This could be because people with fibromyalgia have heightened sensitivity to pain. Or the lipomas may appear on parts of the body where people with fibromyalgia have a lot of pain.

Rarely, a fatty lump under the skin is a type of cancer called liposarcoma. These tumors usually grow quickly. They are painful and less moveable than a lipoma.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Lipoma on the elbow
TimoninaIryna / Getty Images

Diagnosis

Lipomas and fibromyalgia are not directly related. Someone with fibromyalgia has the same chances of developing lipomas as others. A person with lipomas is not more likely to have fibromyalgia than those without them.

Here's where the two conditions may be associated. Lipomas in a person with fibromyalgia may be a sign of Dercum's disease—a related but rare disorder. There is no clear cause of this disorder.

Dercum's is characterized by painful lipomas. Fibromylagia is not. The similarities between the two conditions can make it harder to diagnose Dercum's in people with fibromyalgia.

Dercum's Disease

Lipomas due to Dercum's disease can develop anywhere on the body. They're most often found on the arms, legs, and trunk. Dercum's patients often say the tumors cause burning or aching pain.

People with Dercum's disease often have symptoms like these:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Sleep disturbances

Those symptoms are also common in people with fibromyalgia. While fibromyalgia doesn't cause lipomas, it's well known for similar widespread pain.

There is no standard test for diagnosing Dercum's. Instead, the diagnosis is made through a medical history and physical exam.

If you have fibromyalgia and lipomas, it's a good idea to bring up Dercum's disease with your healthcare provider. Sorting out the two is important, as it may change your treatment plan.

Fibromyalgia and Dercum's disease are both more common in women. This is especially true for overweight or obese women between the ages of 40 and 60 years. However, people with Dercum's disease are almost always overweight or obese, while this is not necessarily true for those with fibromyalgia.

Treatment

Lipomas that don't cause pain don't need to be treated.

If the pain is minor, you might get relief by taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications like Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen). If that doesn't help, you may want to explore hydrocortisone shots to reduce inflammation and shrink the lipomas or surgery to remove them.

Liposuction is another way to remove lipomas, but it may cause more pain than the standard surgery. For that reason, it's not usually a good option for those with fibromyalgia. Also, the pain relief from surgery may only be temporary, as pain tends to recur over time.

Your healthcare provider may recommend other treatments, including:

  • Lidocaine: An anesthetic or numbing agent given as a shot or a topical cream
  • Adipose tissue therapy: A massage therapy that focuses on deep fat, connective tissue, and muscle
  • Electrical stimulation: Small electric pulses delivered to the lipoma

Summary

Lipomas are lumps of fat cells that sit just under the skin. Anyone can develop them. If you have fibromyalgia, it's important to pay attention to large or painful lumps because they might be the result of Dercum's disease.

Dercum's is rare, but it shares many symptoms with fibromyalgia. Both disorders cause pain, fatigue, weakness, depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.

To treat painful lipomas, you can use OTC pain medications. If those don't work, cortisone shots, numbing agents, surgery, massage therapy, or electrical stimulation might be the answer.

A Word From Verywell

If you have fibromyalgia, don't assume that lumps and bumps are just lipomas. Have your healthcare provider check them out. This way you and your healthcare provider can devise a treatment plan that relieves your pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Dercum's disease?

    Dercum's disease is a rare disorder that affects connective tissue. It causes painful fatty tissue growths. They often appear just below the skin of the trunk of your body, upper arms, and upper legs. Healthcare providers don't fully know what causes the disorder.

  • Should you have a lipoma surgically removed?

    It’s not usually necessary. If the lipoma is not causing pain or inconvenience, you can leave it alone. If you need to shrink it, steroid injections may work. Liposuction or surgery may be needed.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Lipoma.

  2. National Organization of Rare Disorders. Dercum's disease.

  3. Kucharz EJ, Kopeć-Mędrek M, Kramza J, Chrzanowska M, Kotyla P. Dercum's disease (adiposis dolorosa): a review of clinical presentation and management. Reumatologia. 2019;57(5):281-87.doi: 10.5114/reum.2019.89521

  4. Peev I, Spasevska L, Mirchevska E, Tudzarova-Gjorgova S. Liposuction assisted lipoma removal – option or alternative? Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2017;5(6):766-770. doi:10.3889%2Foamjms.2017.186

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