Monday, 23 July 2012

IMFW: Lipodystrophy

Today's Interesting Medical Fact of the Week is about lipodystrophy, defined by the ever-noble Wikipedia as "a medical condition characterized by abnormal or degenerative conditions of the body's adipose tissue." Adipose tissue = fat. As you would know if you watched the freaky Dr Who episode which featured little fat aliens called the Adipose.

Dr Who: making obesity cute.
But I digress.

I first heard about lipodystrophy when chatting to a very lovely nurse in the research department of the hospital where I went to have a bunch of tests at the beginning of the month. It's a subject they have been doing some research into, and I have to admit it kind of caught the imagination.

The term "lipodystrophy" actually covers a whole range of conditions in which the body's fat does weird things. It may include a loss of fat from certain areas of the body (lipoatrophy), or even an increase in fat in certain areas (lipohyperthrophy), or even both (lipoWTF-ery):

Congenital generalised lipodystrophy:
A rare genetic disorder in which there is extremely low fat in the subcutaneous tissue.
Other symptoms include having a giant liver and being very hairy. And, unfortunately, heart problems.

Benign Symmetric Lipomatosis:
In which the patient develops extensive fat deposits in the neck, head and shoulder area. Often associated with alcohol abuse.

Barraquer-Simons Syndrome:
This rare condition usually appears after a viral infection in childhood, and is characterised by the gradual loss of fat from the top half of the body; the face, neck, shoulders, arms and chest, often accompanied by an increase of fat in the thighs, and sometimes by other symptoms such as deafness and epilepsy.

HIV-associated lipodystrophy:
This condition occurs in people with HIV, usually those who are being treated with anti-retroviral drugs, although there is some debate about whether it is caused by the drugs or by HIV infection alone. Often there may be fat accumulation in the back, creating a 'buffalo hump', the neck and breasts, and patients often develop abdominal obesity. However, at the same time they may have loss of fat in the face, arms, shoulders, thighs and buttocks.

Those are just a few examples - lipodystrophy is quite poorly understood and quite difficult to treat. Liposuction may be used to treat excess fat deposits, or lipomas (benign tumours of fat tissue) may be removed surgically; equally implants or even fat injections may be used to improve the cosmetic appearance of fat loss from the face and body.

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