Mum, 29, with abnormally large legs due to chronic illness refused liposuction by NHS

A MUM who has abnormally large legs due to a chronic illness has been refused liposuction by the NHS.

Zoe Pearce has lipoedema, an agonising condition which causes a build-up of fat cells in the legs and other parts of the body.

It makes daily life difficult with very little treatment available. 

Only liposuction can remove the excess fat cells, but the NHS says it’s only accessible to those if symptoms are “particularly severe”.

Zoe, from Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees, was told she had severe Stage 3 Type 4 of the condition two years ago.

But she has watched it progress over 11 years, with excess fat now affecting her legs, breasts, arms and buttocks. 

The 29-year-old applied for liposuction surgery on the NHS but was declined in 2019, and her doctor is still waiting to hear after appealing. 

Zoe told Teesside Live: “It can’t be changed with diet or exercise, it can only be removed from your body through a special kind of liposuction.

“I applied for it and had support of the local MP in a letter.

“They came back and said no because I only wanted it for cosmetic reasons.

“I’m worried about ending up in a wheelchair.”

Zoe, who has two sons and is married to Jamie, tries to manage her symptoms with compression bandages, exercise like swimming, dry brushing, breathing exercises.

She avoids food and drinks that cause inflammation, including caffeine and sugar. 

Pasta causes more pain while alcohol causes her legs to “fizz and ache”.

Speaking of her symptoms, Zoe said: “It can feel heavy, tingly, fizzy, not very nice, it can be painful as well.

“It’s different for everyone, I think I’ve got quite an aggressive type because of how big my legs have got in quite a small space of time.”

Zoe first began suffering from lipoedema when she was 18 years old. She developed "cankles" but never knew it could be the result of a condition.

She went on numerous weight loss diets, but her legs only got bigger.

It is estimated lipoedema affects 11 per cent of women, according to Lipoedema UK.

Women of any weight can get the condition which is “not caused by being overweight”, according to the NHS.

5 signs of lipoedema

Bracelet or band-like appearance

Lipoedema creates swelling. One of the key symptoms is the bracelet effect, likey to be seen above the ankles and wrists.

It could look as though you have put a band or hair tie around the area, or as though you have a bracelet on too tight.

Bruising easily

Many women with the condition experience multiple and frequent bruising.

If you've bumped into a sharp edge and have a large bruise then you could have lipoedema.

The fat can sometimes be painful and feel heavy and hurt when knocked, even if just gently.

Small broken veins under the skin

Varicose veins are a common problem for people who are suffering with lipoedema.

Cold skin

Skin that feels cold to touch, "doughy" or look as though it has an orange peel texture may signal lipoedema.

Aches or pains

If you're experiencing aches or pains and you haven't been hitting the gym hard then this might be a sign of lipoedema.

This is because the body is usually carrying and storing extra fat cells around the joints.

A change in hormones from pregnancy or the contraceptive pill is a possible cause, and it often runs in families.

Celebrity Shaughna Phillips has been open about her battle with the condition and is understood to have paid privately for her liposuction in September 2020.

She was diagnosed after her appearance on Love Island, having thought she had "abnormally large legs" despite working hard in the gym.

In the early stages, lipoedema typically causes heavier legs and a larger bottom and thighs, while the feet remain unchanged. The waist and upper body is smaller.

The affected skin feels soft and cool and may be dimpled with an "orange peel" texture.

Patients can also bruise easily, have knock knees, flat feet and joint problems.

Since a specialist at Teesside Hospice diagnosed Zoe in 2015, she has been frustrated about the lack of information available to her.

She said: “There’s women out there who have self-diagnosed or who don’t know they’ve got it.

“Early diagnosis is so important, not necessarily for us but for the next generation.

“The more people know about it, the more doctors will refer people on and the NHS may start looking into it and doing research.

“It is a chronic illness and it’s debilitating, it doesn’t have to progress but we need all the awareness as possible.

“Sometimes doctors think you’re just overweight or it’s just the way you’re built.

“Doctors in this area need to know more about it, it doesn't cost them to refer so they need to.”

Zoe has used her social media platforms to promote lipoedema awareness, with 28,000 followers on her Instagram account @thickthighs.positivevibes 

She said she receives regular messages on Instagram from people who have got a diagnosis thanks to her campaigning. 

Zoe, whose occupation is unknown, also volunteers for the charity Talk Lipoedema, which is encouraging people to take part in walking challenges and donate during June.

With the support of the charity and Teeside Hospice, Zoe said: “I just try to get on with it.”

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