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Health A-Z

Lipomas: living with lumps

I have several lumps on my lower arms, one on the base of my back and several on my thighs. Previously I've been told these were lipomas. Now three more small lumps have come up in a row along the middle of my inside forearm and my doctor has brought up the possibility that they could be an autoimmune disease that affects the connective tissue. I also have permanent hypothyroidism. Do you think this diagnosis is possible, and if it is, what kind of disease?

Dr Fred Kavalier answers your health question:

Lipomas are benign fatty lumps that grow in various parts of the body. When they grow under the skin they feel like soft rubbery lumps. They can be as small as a pea, or as big as a plum. The commonest places for them are around the neck, the back and the upper arms and upper legs. The lumps are usually painless, although they can be uncomfortable if they appear in awkward places. Occasionally they can press on nerves and cause pain or numbness.If you remove a lipoma and look at it under a microscope, it is composed of fat cells that have grown and spread. Lipomas usually appear for no apparent reason. Very rarely they run in families (familial multiple lipomatosis). When this occurs it is probably due to a gene that is passed from parent to child, but the actual gene that causes this has not yet been identified.

I can't quite imagine what autoimmune disease your doctor is referring to. There is no recognised link between an underactive thyroid and lipomas. There is a very rare condition called Dercum's Disease that causes an unusual type of painful fatty lumps, and there is some suggestion that people who have this disease sometimes have underactive thyroid glands. But the condition is so rare that there is hardly any medical literature written about it. I don't think you should worry that you are beginning to show signs of some rare autoimmune disease. The likelihood is simply that you are someone who has a tendency to produce lipomas for no good reason.

Please mail your questions for Dr Fred to health@independent.co.uk. He regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.