An In-Depth Guide to Fibromyalgia and Lipomas

How the disease can complicate a benign skin condition

Senior African American man rubbing his shoulder
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Have you ever felt soft, fatty lumps or bumps beneath your skin? A lot of us with fibromyalgia do. They're called lipomas, and they're non-cancerous tumors made up essentially of fat (adipose cells).

In most people, lipomas are painless and small (measuring less than a half an inch). They're not a problem at all and many people never notice them.

In others, though, they can grow to as much as two inches in diameter and may become quite painful, even requiring pain medication to alleviate symptoms.

When people with fibromyalgia complain about lipomas, it's usually the large, painful kind that they're talking about.

Lipomas in People With Fibromyalgia

Lipomas are not directly related to fibromyalgia. They are more frequently associated with family genetics or certain diseases like Adiposis dolorosa (also called Decrum’s disease).

With that being said, lipomas are quite common in people with fibromyalgia, and when they do appear, the pain is almost invariably worse than what other people experience. This is largely related to the parts of the body where people with fibromyalgia are susceptible to excessive pain.

Lipomas may also be difficult to identify as the lumps may be confused with myofascial trigger points (contracted knots of muscle and connective tissue). These are common in people with fibromyalgia, but again, not because they're symptoms of this illness, because of the frequently overlaping condition called myofascial pain syndrome.

There are different types of lipomas that can develop on different parts of the body. Among them are:

  • Superficial subcutaneous lipoma (the most common type, distributed in all parts of the body)
  • Angiolipomas (painful nodules situated just below the skin)
  • Chondroid lipomas (typically appearing as hard, yellow lumps on the legs of women)
  • Intradermal spindle cell lipomas (seen, again, mostly in women and appearing in many different parts of the body)

Lipomas are rarely life-threatening, and superficial ones just beneath the skin are not considered a serious condition (except, perhaps, for cosmetic reasons). They tend to grow quite slowly and will often remain the same size for years. They most often have a soft, rubbery texture but can also be quite hard at times.

The presence of multiple lipomas is known as lipomatosis.

Treating Lipomas in People With Fibromyalgia

Lipomas that don't cause pain aren't a problem and don't need to be treated. If there is some minor pain, you can usually rely on a standard, over-the-counter pain medications like Motrin or Aleve. The medications you take for fibromyalgia pain will probably be more than adequate.

However, if the pain is severe or getting worse, talk to your doctor about treatment options. In some cases, all you may require is a prescription-strength pain reliever.

In other cases, though, you may want to explore hydrocortisone shots or surgery. The problem with these, of course, is that they can make your fibromyalgia symptoms even worse. Then again, so can additional sources of pain.

Lipoma surgery is typically pretty simple, requiring a small excision that can be made in your doctor’s office under a local anesthetic (one that just numbs the area but doesn't put you to sleep). The procedure generally takes around 30 minutes, and research shows there is little chance that the lipoma will come back after it is removed. Liposuction is also a valid method of removing lipomas, but that may cause more pain than the standard surgery, making it less of an option for those with fibromyalgia.

Even under the best of circumstances, recovery will likely be painful, and there is no guarantee that the removal of the lipoma will eliminate the pain. But some people, understandably, will still undergo the procedure for cosmetic purposes, particularly if the lipoma is large and visible.

Any time you're considering or facing surgery, you should take steps to minimize its impact on your illness.

A Word From Verywell

While lipomas are common in people with fibromyalgia, don't assume that the bumps are just lipomas. Have your doctor check them out.

The same goes for lumps in fibrocystic breasts. Just because we are prone to harmless lumps and bumps on our bodies doesn't mean that one of them might not turn out to be cancer. Regular mammograms and Pap smears should be as much as part of our health routine as any aspect of our fibromyalgia treatment.

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Article Sources

  • James, W.; Timothy, G.; and Elston, D. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology, 11th ed. London, England: Elsevier; ISBN 9781437703145 (2011).