What is Dercum’s Disease?

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on May 29, 2023
3 min read

Decrum’s disease is an extremely rare disorder. People with it have many painful, fatty lumps that grow just below their skin. There’s no cure yet, but some treatments can ease the symptoms.

The reasons aren’t clear yet. Some experts think Dercum’s may come from a mutated fat gene that’s passed down in families. Others believe it’s an autoimmune disorder. That means your body’s immune system is attacking healthy tissues. Or it could be the result of a hormone or nervous system problem. No one knows for sure.

Men can get Dercum’s, but women who are obese, middle-aged or have gone through menopause are 20 times more likely to be diagnosed. It most often shows up between the ages of 45 and 60. Children rarely get Dercum’s.

If you have Dercum’s, the growths of fatty tissue (lipomas) may appear all over your body. They’ll show up most often on your torso (trunk), upper arms and upper legs. The lumps can cause weakness and severe pain as they press on nearby nerves. This may come and go or the pain may get worse as you move.

The other main signs of Dercum’s are:

You may also feel tired and rundown, bruise easily, have headaches and feel stiff after resting (like you do when you first get up in the morning).

There’s no specific test to check for Dercum’s. Instead, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and do a thorough physical exam. They may also do tests to rule out other medical issues that share some of the same symptoms. These include endocrine (hormone) disorders and lipoedema (a buildup of fat in the lower half of the body).

Since this is a very rare condition, you may need to be diagnosed by a specialist. This could be an internist, dermatologist (skin doctor), or an endocrinologist who treats hormone (gland) problems. You may also want to see a pain specialist.

Although there’s no cure yet for Dercum’s, your doctor may suggest treatments to ease your symptoms.

  • Surgery: In severe cases, your doctor may decide to remove your fatty growths. This may relieve your pain for a while, but there’s still a chance some or all of your lipomas will grow back.
  • Medicine: Some drugs will ease specific symptoms. Diuretics (water pills) are sometimes prescribed to reduce swelling. They help your body get rid of extra water. Other drugs may help with the pain. These include corticosteroids, lidocaine, methotrexate or interferon a-2b.
  • Liposuction: Your pain may be reduced by this procedure that suctions out extra fat.
  • Emotional support: Chat with friends, family members, or a mental health provider. They may help you cope better with this chronic disease.
  • Alternative therapies:Acupuncture, hypnosis, and biofeedback could all make a difference in how you feel.
  • Eating healthy: Your fatty lumps likely won’t go away with diet and exercise, but an improved lifestyle could help your outlook. Talk to your doctor about healthy homemade meals and low-impact workouts you could try.

Your doctor can also tell you what might make your symptoms worse. This can include stress, not getting enough sleep, a poor diet, and doing too much or very hard physical activity.