Localized Lipodystrophy

Updated: Sep 30, 2022
  • Author: Serhat Aytug, MD, FACE; Chief Editor: George T Griffing, MD  more...
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Practice Essentials

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. [1]  Total lipodystrophy consists of congenital or acquired complete loss of adipose tissue usually associated with hepatomegaly, hyperglycemiainsulin 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 diseaseglomerulonephritisdiabeteshirsutism, hyperlipidemia, hypocomplementemia, and immunologic disorders. Localized lipodystrophy is localized loss of adipose tissue, usually involving multiple areas. [2]  This article focuses on localized lipodystrophy; total and partial lipodystrophy are not discussed further in this article.



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 Japanese study by Hisamichi et al, two 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 report by Yamamoto et al, six 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]  A report by Cook described a case of localized lipoatrophy that likely resulted from the inadvertent subcutaneous injection of COVID-19 vaccine in the left upper arm of a 60-year-old woman. [8] Tanrıkulu et al reported a case of localized lipoatrophy following intramuscular steroid injection to both buttocks. [9]

Hamp et al reported the case of a patient who had localized lipoatrophy in the left gluteal region from the previous drainage of a deep abscess. There was no history of corticosteroid or antibiotic injection or use of highly active antiretroviral therapy. [10]

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. [11]

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. 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. [12]



The cause of lipodystrophic syndromes is unknown. One subset of the lipodystrophic syndromes is associated with subcutaneous and intradermal injection sites. In this group, trauma may induce the release of macrophage cytokines (eg, tumor necrosis factor, interleukin-1) that might enhance lipocyte catabolism. Impure animal insulin might lead to localized lipodystrophy, possibly because of a cross-reaction with lipid tissues and insulin antibody. Localized lipodystrophy caused by a cross-reaction is very rare with synthetic insulin. [13]



United States statistics

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.

International statistics

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

Race-, sex-, and age-related demographics

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.



Prognosis is usually benign. Mortality and morbidity depends 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.


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.


Complications include the following:

  • Loss of subcutaneous tissue

  • Cosmetic complications


Patient Education

Patients can be taught to change insulin injection sites if lipodystrophy is related to insulin injections.

For more information, please see the patient education resource Giving Yourself an Insulin Shot for Diabetes.