Lipomas are lumps of fat on the surface of your skin. They’re more common in people with fibromyalgia. They certainly look alarming but they’re actually benign. What causes these strange-looking lumps and why are they more common in fibromyalgia patients? Here’s what you need to know about lipomas, including the different types of lipomas and how they’re treated.
What are Lipomas?
Lipomas are soft, fatty bumps under the surface of the skin. Most are small and painless. But they can also grow to be as large as two inches in diameter. These larger growths tend to be more painful. There are actually four different types of lipomas:
- Superficial subcutaneous, which may appear anywhere on the body
- Angiolipomas, which are painful nodules
- Chondroid, which are hard, yellow lumps often found on women’s legs
- Intradermal spindle cell, which are most common in women but can be on any part of the body
Massage therapists may notice these bumps during a standard massage of fibromyalgia patients. The lipomas will feel like movable knots or bumps but will be unable to dissolve them.
Nobody knows what causes lipomas but they tend to run in families and most commonly appear between 40 and 60 years of age.
Although lipomas are generally painless, they can be more painful for fibro patients. In general, people with fibromyalgia tend to be more hypersensitive to pain than the average person. People who have multiple lipomas have a condition called lipomatosis.
Why are Lipomas More Common in Fibromyalgia Patients?
Lipomas are more common in patients with fibromyalgia, although anyone can develop them. It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between lipomas and knots of swollen tissue under the skin at pressure points. These can also be called myofascial trigger points and are often associated with myofascial pain syndrome. Many people with fibromyalgia also have myofascial pain syndrome, so these growths can be an overlapping symptom.
Although lipomas are usually soft and rubbery in texture, they can gradually harden. They may grow over time, but when they do, it’s usually a very slow process.
How to Treat Lipomas
Most lipomas are cosmetic and non-cancerous, so removing them is not always strictly necessary. Treatment for painless lipomas is not necessary at all. But many people with fibromyalgia have more discomfort and pain associated with their lipomas. Most can be managed with over-the-counter medications such as Advil or Tylenol. If those medications do not help, talk to your doctor about stronger pain relievers.
Hydrocortisone shots may also provide relief from painful lipomas by reducing swelling. However, many fibromyalgia patients are sensitive to hydrocortisone shots, so this option may not be as commonly recommended.
Some people may opt for surgical removal of lipomas that are particularly painful. Lipomas that are located in a part of the body exposed to a lot of friction, such as under a bra strap, can also be more painful. The removal surgery is a relatively simple process. It’s generally an outpatient procedure where the doctor uses a local anesthetic to numb the affected area while allowing you to stay awake. The doctor then removes the lipoma with a small cut. The lump is not likely to come back after removal.
Liposuction is also an effective way to remove lipomas but tends to be more painful.
There is no guarantee that surgically removing lipomas will get rid of the pain. The recovery from the surgery itself is also likely to be painful, possibly triggering a flare-up of fibromyalgia symptoms. However, it is possible that the surgery will ultimately eliminate pain from the lump, particularly if it was in a sensitive area. It will also have cosmetic benefits since these lumps can be unsightly and embarrassing.
Even though lipomas are generally benign, you should not ignore all lumps and bumps. People with fibromyalgia can still get cancer just like anyone else can. Get checked out by a doctor for any new lumps or bumps, especially if they look unusual or cause pain.
Lipomas are not associated with an increased risk of skin cancer. Many fibro patients are afraid of complaining too much, but you still owe to to yourself to get regular skin examinations.