SynopsisCodesLook ForDiagnostic PearlsDifferential Diagnosis & PitfallsBest TestsManagement PearlsTherapyReferences

View all Images (8)

Adiposis dolorosa
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Adiposis dolorosa

Contributors: Lindsey Wanberg, Chris G. Adigun MD, Susan Burgin MD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


Adiposis dolorosa, also known as Dercum disease, is an uncommon condition characterized by the development of numerous painful subcutaneous lipomas or painful adipose tissue. The condition predominates in obese women between ages 35 and 50. The painful lipomas / fatty areas are symmetrically distributed and may be either diffuse or localized. 

The following classification has been proposed:
  • Type I: Generalized diffuse form: widespread painful adipose tissue, no clear lipomas
  • Type II: Generalized nodular form: pain in adipose tissue and within and around multiple lipomas
  • Type III: Localized nodular form: pain within and around multiple lipomas
  • Type IV: Juxta-articular form: solitary adipose deposit near a joint, eg the medial knee
The trunk, buttocks, and upper and lower extremities are the most commonly affected sites; however, one-third of individuals with this condition have involvement of the neck and scalp, and one-fifth have involvement of the face.

In addition to being painful, it is also common for paresthesia of the overlying skin of the individual lipomas to be present. Degree of pain increases with body mass index (BMI). Other associated findings include hyperalgesia to light pressure, acral swelling, headache, telangiectasia, and bruising. Complaints of weakness and fatigability, as well as psychiatric disturbances such as depression and dementia, are common. When the lipomas arise around joints, affected individuals may experience mechanical arthralgia.

The pathogenesis of the condition is unknown, although metabolic studies suggest that alterations in fatty acid metabolism and peripheral insulin resistance play a role, while other studies suggest that it is a primary autoimmune process. Adiposis dolorosa has also developed in areas of traumatic injury.

Patients suffering from adiposis dolorosa often experience severe, chronic pain. This places them at risk for numerous unnecessary diagnostic procedures and even surgery. There is often an absence of laboratory or other radiographic abnormalities, as well as a lack of response to treatment. It is important to keep this condition in mind when evaluating a patient with chronic pain.


E88.2 – Lipomatosis, not elsewhere classified

71404003 – Lipomatosis dolorosa

Look For

Subscription Required

Diagnostic Pearls

Subscription Required

Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

To perform a comparison, select diagnoses from the classic differential

Subscription Required

Best Tests

Subscription Required

Management Pearls

Subscription Required


Subscription Required


Subscription Required

Last Reviewed:08/31/2022
Last Updated:09/13/2022
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.
Adiposis dolorosa
A medical illustration showing key findings of Adiposis dolorosa : Painful skin lesions, Large fatty tumors
Clinical image of Adiposis dolorosa - imageId=4770864. Click to open in gallery.  caption: 'A large subcutaneous tumor on the upper arm.'
A large subcutaneous tumor on the upper arm.
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.