Adiposis Dolorosa Treatment & Management

Updated: Dec 15, 2017
  • Author: Laura F McGevna, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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Medical Care

Traditional management of Dercum disease (adiposis dolorosa) has been largely unsatisfactory relying on weight reduction and surgical excision of particularly troublesome lesions. Even at the present time, no known drug can change the course of the disease, and available treatments are only symptomatic.

Nonpharmacological approaches for Dercum disease (adiposis dolorosa) may be used as adjuncts to pharmacologic treatments. Some of these include acupuncture, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, and biofeedback. [32, 33]

Pharmacological treatments

Prednisone, 20 mg daily, has been reported to provide some pain relief. [4] However, in one case, the induction of disease was associated with high-dose corticosteroids. [10]

Intravenous lidocaine, 400 mg over 15 minutes every other day, has been reported to provide pain relief for 10 hours to several months. [34, 35] The exact mechanism of action is uncertain and remains to be elucidated as to whether it is a central effect or due to its effect on blood flow. Long-term intravenous lidocaine therapy has been associated with neurotoxicity.

Traditional analgesics, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), have traditionally been thought to have a poor effect. However, a large 2007 series by Herbst concluded that 89% achieved relief when treated with an NSAID, as did 97% when treated with an opiate. [3]  Acetaminophen combined with an opioid analgesic is the first choice. Localized pain may sometimes be treated with a cortisone/anesthetic injection, alternatively with sterile water given intracutaneously or more deeply.

Other medications

Because of troublesome swelling of the fingers, some patients may require diuretics.

In 2 reported cases of Dercum disease (adiposis dolorosa), interferon (INF) alfa-2b induced long-term relief of pain in 2 patients with adiposis dolorosa and chronic hepatitis C. The analgesic effect of IFN therapy was unexpected and occurred 3 weeks after treatment with 3 million units, 3 times per week, for 6 months. Whether the mechanism of pain relief with IFN is related to its antiviral effect, to the production of endogenous substances (eg, endorphins produced by IFN), or to the interference of INF with interleukin 1 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha cytokine production, which are involved in cutaneous hyperalgesias, remains unclear. [36]

Two Dercum disease (adiposis dolorosa) case reports have described pain relief with daily intake of oral mexiletine, an antiarrhythmic. [35, 37]

Singal et al reported improvement of a patient's Dercum disease (adiposis dolorosa) while on infliximab, with and without methotrexate, for ankylosing spondylitis. The patient experienced recurrent weight gain and lipoma pain with discontinuation of these medications. [38]

Desai et al reported on treatment with a lidocaine (5%) patch, [39] and Lange et al reported on successful therapy with pregabalin with manual lymphatic drainage. [40]

Metformin has been used with success in a patient with adiposis dolorosa and associated pain. [41] It is thought that the drug may have the capacity to favorably alter the cytokine milieu, impacting such mediators as tumor necrosis factor, interleukin (IL)–1, and leptin. [2, 41] In the report by Labuzek et al, each variable was affected moderately by the drug, and it was concluded that the effect of reduction of the inflammatory mediators is additive. Nonetheless, they concluded that other phenomena must contribute to the effects (eg, modulation of synaptic plasticity, activation of microglia). [41]

It should be noted that a study on cytokines in patients with adiposis dolorosa revealed there is no significant difference between these patients and controls with regard to tumor necrosis factor (TNF), leptin, IL-1, and most other mediators. However, patients with disease did demonstrate significantly lower levels of macrophage inhibitory protein-1 beta and higher levels of IL-13 and lower levels of fractalkine, an adipokine whose receptors are characteristically up-regulated in prolonged neuropathic pain. [9, 42]


Surgical Care

Liposuction  [43]

Liposuction is regarded as a supportive treatment for Dercum disease (adiposis dolorosa). Any skeletal pain is not affected. A significant initial reduction of pain and an improved quality of life is seen; these effects decrease over time. [44]

Liposuction is indicated for patients with general lower-body fat or more localized large deposits of fat at the knees, on the arms, on the thighs, or on the stomach as opposed to those with general diffuse pain. In those patients, liposuction is considered a risky operation, requiring about a week of care in the plastic surgery department.

Surgical operation

Excision of isolated painful lipomas that are pressing and causing numbness and tingling, while not preventive, is useful in ameliorating local symptoms of pain.



The following consultations may be warranted:

  • Psychiatrist: Depression and other psychosomatic symptoms are associated with Dercum disease (adiposis dolorosa). Many patients find they are misjudged and require psychological support.

  • Rheumatologist: A rheumatologic consultation is warranted to rule out osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.

  • Endocrinologist: An endocrinologic etiology, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing syndrome, should be ruled out.



Experience shows that lasting weight reduction by changing the diet is difficult to achieve and does not appreciably affect the pain.



Light physical activity may worsen symptoms because of the stiffness experienced after periods of rest and minimal activity. Patients should avoid monotonous, static work and physical and psychological stress.