Lipomas and Fibromyalgia

A rare disease may be the connection

Lumps and bumps under the skin can have a variety of causes, some of which are more concerning that others. One possibility is that they are lipomas, which are non-cancerous tumors essentially made up of fat (adipose) cells.

While anyone can develop lipomas, and people with fibromyalgia are no more likely to experience them than others. They are especially important to take note of if you have this chronic condition.

Such lumps and bumps under the skin in a person with fibromyalgia may be a sign of an extremely rare and disabling condition called Dercum's disease, and getting a proper diagnosis can help you get treatment that may bring some symptom relief.

Lipoma Symptoms

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

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

When people with fibromyalgia complain about lipomas, they are usually the large kind. The pain is almost invariably worse than what other people experience. This could be related to the parts of the body where people with fibromyalgia are susceptible to excessive pain.

Rarely, a fatty lump underneath the skin is actually a type of cancer called liposarcoma. These tumors usually grow rapidly, are painful, and are 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

It's important to understand that lipomas and fibromyalgia are not directly related. In addition to people with fibromyalgia having the same likelihood of developing lipomas as others, a person with lipomas is not more likely to develop fibromyalgia than those without these skin lumps.

Where the association comes into play is that lipomas in a person with fibromyalgia may actually be a sign of Dercum's disease—a related, albeit rare, disorder of unknown cause.

Though Dercum's is characterized by painful lipomas and fibromylagia is not, similarities between how the two conditions present can make identifying these skin lumps in fibromyalgia patients difficult.

Dercum's Disease

Lipomas due to Dercum's disease can develop anywhere on the body but are most commonly found on the arms, legs, and trunk. Dercum's patients often describe the pain as burning or aching in nature.

Though fibromyalgia doesn't cause lipomas, it is well-known for similar and widespread pain. Dercum's disease is also associated with symptoms like fatigue, weakness, depression, anxiety, confusion, and sleep disturbances, which are also common in those with fibromyalgia.

When it comes to diagnosing Dercum's disease, there is, unfortunately, no standard test that doctors can use. Instead, the diagnosis is made clinically, meaning through a medical history and physical examination.

With that, if you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia but are also experiencing lipomas, it's sensible to bring up the possibility of a diagnosis of Dercum's disease with your doctor. Sorting out the two diagnoses is important, as it may ultimately alter your treatment plan.

Physical presentation aside, fibromyalgia and Dercum's disease are both significantly more common in women, especially overweight or obese women between the ages of 40 and 60 years.

Treatment

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 (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen).

In other cases, though, you may want to explore hydrocortisone shots or lipoma surgery. 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.

If you end up being diagnosed with Dercum's disease, other specific therapies that your doctor may recommend, include:

  • Lidocaine: A type of anesthetic or numbing agent given either intravenously (through the vein), transdermally (applied over the skin), or intralesionally (injected into the lipoma)
  • Subcutaneous adipose tissue therapy: A massage therapy that focuses on deep fat tissue, fascia, and muscle
  • Transcutaneous electrical stimulation: A procedure that involves delivering a small electric current to the lipoma

A Word From Verywell

While lipomas may occur in people with fibromyalgia, don't assume that the bumps are just lipomas. Have your doctor check them out. This way you and your doctor can devise a treatment plan that most effectively and safely addresses your pain.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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. 2018.

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

  3. Hansson E, Svensson H, Brorson H. Review of Dercum's disease and proposal of diagnostic criteria, diagnostic methods, classification and management. Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2012;7:23. doi:10.1186/1750-1172-7-23

  4. 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

Additional Reading