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Localized Lipodystrophy

  • Author: Serhat Aytug, MD; Chief Editor: George T Griffing, MD  more...
Updated: Dec 16, 2014


Lipodystrophy or lipoatrophy is primary idiopathic atrophy of adipose tissue. Lipodystrophy is a very rare disorder with no known etiology. Lipodystrophy can be total, partial, or localized. Total lipodystrophy consists of congenital or acquired complete loss of adipose tissue usually associated with hepatomegaly, hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, hyperlipidemia, and hypermetabolism.

Partial lipodystrophy is manifested as symmetrical loss of facial fat tissue with or without similar atrophy of the arms and upper part of the trunk. This syndrome has been associated with renal disease, glomerulonephritis, diabetes, hirsutism, hyperlipidemia, hypocomplementemia, and immunologic disorders. Localized lipodystrophy is localized loss of adipose tissue, usually involving multiple areas.[1] This article focuses on localized lipodystrophy; total and partial lipodystrophy are not discussed further in this article.

Recent studies

Touraine et al conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study on 105 patients with growth hormone (GH) deficiency to test the safety and efficacy of a long-acting GH molecule.[2] The molecule, which requires weekly subcutaneous injections, rather than daily injections, was produced by covalent binding of polyethylene glycol with recombinant human GH. The study was terminated, however, after 13 patients developed injection-site lipodystrophy; in 3 patients, the atrophy occurred after the first injection. The investigators concluded that this side effect may limit the development of this long-acting GH molecule.



Localized lipodystrophy or atrophy is localized loss of adipose tissue. Patients with localized lipodystrophy usually have single or multifocal, well-demarcated, atrophic lesions. Some patients have local panatrophy involving muscle, fat, and morphealike changes. Localized lipodystrophy can present as panatrophy that includes the manifestation of hemifacial atrophy.

Associations with localized scleroderma and lichen sclerosus et atrophicus have been noted. One subset group has annular atrophy of the ankles and semicircular lipoatrophy of the anterolateral region of the thighs. Annular lipodystrophy is another form of lipoatrophy in which underlying inflammation has been described. Lipoatrophy can be a common sequela of panniculitis in patients with connective tissue diseases (eg, systemic lupus erythematosus, subcutaneous morphea, the syndrome of lobular lymphocytic connective tissue panniculitis of Winkelmann and Padilha-Goncalves[3] ). Lipoatrophy can be associated with nephritis, hypocomplementemia, scleroderma, Sjögren syndrome, recurrent pyogenic infections, immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), and thyroiditis.[4, 5]

The etiology of lipodystrophy is believed to be either inflammatory or noninflammatory. Patients with serologic and immunologic abnormalities tend to have inflammatory patterns on histopathologic examinations, although these changes are not diagnostic of a particular connective tissue disease. These histopathologic abnormalities can be a manifestation of an immunologic disease. Patients with inflammatory patterns tend to have multiple lesions, as opposed to single areas of lipoatrophy. Patients with no inflammatory features have a more benign form of the disease.

Localized lipodystrophy can also be observed in patients having intradermal or subcutaneous injections (eg, insulin, corticosteroids, IM penicillin G, iron dextran, diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus vaccine, acupuncture, recombinant growth hormone). In a 2002 Japanese study by Hisamichi et al, 2 patients with localized involutional lipoatrophy were reported. These patients received intramuscular steroid injections and in the immunohistochemical studies with the antibody against macrophage (anti-CD68 antigen) showed that positive cells were scattered around blood vessels and shrunken lipocytes in the subcutaneous tissues. Most of these cells in the fat lobules were also positive for mucin stains such as Alcian blue.[6] In a 2002 report by Yamamoto et al, 6 patients were reported with localized involutional lipoatrophy who presented with a depressive plaque on the lateral part of their upper arms after receiving injections for allergic rhinitis.[7]

Lipodystrophy is also a common complication in patients who are infected with HIV and are taking protease inhibitors. This form of lipodystrophy is more of a generalized lipodystrophy and is not discussed in this article. Localized lipoatrophy has also been observed with subcutaneous glatiramer acetate (Copaxone) injection used for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.[8]




United States

Localized lipodystrophy is extremely rare. Other than localized lipodystrophy secondary to injections, only a few case series of lipodystrophic syndromes are reported in the literature.


Because localized lipodystrophy is extremely rare, only a few case series of lipodystrophic syndromes are reported in the literature.


The natural course of lipodystrophy is benign. Mortality and morbidity usually depend on associated organ system involvement and comorbid conditions.

Patients without other organ system involvement experience no disability and are anticipated to have a normal life expectancy.

Cosmetically, lipodystrophy can be disturbing; in extreme cases, the patient's body self-image can be impaired significantly.


No studies addressing the racial distribution in localized lipodystrophy syndromes exist.


Females seem to be affected more often than are males, but the ratio is not known.


Lipodystrophy can present at any age, from early infancy through adulthood. Onset usually occurs during the first or second decade of life.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Serhat Aytug, MD Endocrinologist, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, St Jude Heritage Medical Group

Serhat Aytug, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Arthur B Chausmer, MD, PhD, FACP, FACE, FACN, CNS Professor of Medicine (Endocrinology, Adj), Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; Affiliate Research Professor, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Program, School of Computational Sciences, George Mason University; Principal, C/A Informatics, LLC

Arthur B Chausmer, MD, PhD, FACP, FACE, FACN, CNS is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American College of Nutrition, American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, International Society for Clinical Densitometry, American College of Endocrinology, American College of Physicians, American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, American Medical Informatics Association, Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

George T Griffing, MD Professor Emeritus of Medicine, St Louis University School of Medicine

George T Griffing, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Society for Clinical Densitometry, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, American College of Medical Practice Executives, American Association for Physician Leadership, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, American Heart Association, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

David M Klachko, MD, MEd Professor Emeritus, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine

David M Klachko, MD, MEd is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, Missouri State Medical Association, American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, Endocrine Society, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Rubens Sievert, MD Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Rubens Sievert, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Thyroid Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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