Panniculitis: Swelling of the Fatty Tissue Under the Skin


Image: Shutterstock/ Milan Ilic Photographer

Panniculitis is a painful condition that can affect anyone. But it seems to be common in women who suffer from fibromyalgia. And it’s also something that you’ve probably never heard of if you’re anything like most people. Of course, when you suffer from panniculitis, you quickly realize how serious it can be.

The condition can cause widespread symptoms like chronic fatigue and tender areas of skin. Thus, it’s even possible to mistake with fibromyalgia if you aren’t aware of the difference in symptoms.

So, let’s take a minute to learn more about the condition. What is it? What causes it? And what can you do to treat it?

What Is Panniculitis?

In the most basic sense, panniculitis refers to an inflammation of the fatty tissue under the skin. In fact, the name tells you everything you need to know, though it might not seem like it. You see, like any condition with “-itis” in the name, it causes inflammation. And the “panniculus” is the layer of fat under the skin.

This lower layer of skin is packed full of nerves, tissue, and blood vessels. And that means it’s actually very vulnerable to inflammation due to a┬ávariety of different causes.

So, the condition can occur anywhere on the body where there is fatty tissue. But it’s commonly seen on the legs. It causes painful raised bumps or plaques that are often hard and painful to the touch.

These bumps may vary in size and may drain an oily substance. Over time, these bumps will likely go away on their own, but they may leave behind a slight indentation of the skin. In rare cases, the skin surrounding the bumps may die, which causes the skin to decay. This can produce sores that are at significant risk of infection.

Panniculitis sometimes recurs after months or years.

And in addition to the obvious symptoms, the condition can also cause more general ones that are harder to notice. These include things like fever, fatigue, and chronic head aches.

Finally, the condition can also lead to inflammation all over the body, depending on the initial cause. And in rare cases, this inflammation can lead to damage to the vital organs like the heart and lungs.

What Causes It?

There are many different types of panniculitis, all differentiated by where they affect you and what causes them. But there are a few things that make you more likely to develop the condition. Having infections, connective tissue disorders, or disorders of the pancreas can all increase your risk.

But even something like cold temperatures can cause the raised bumps that we associate with the condition. In fact, there’s even a type of the condition called “popsicle panniculitis,” due to the fact that a doctor once diagnosed a patient who had developed the condition from pressing a popsicle against the skin of her mouth.

The most common reasons for someone to develop this kind of swelling include to inflammation in the blood vessels, called vasculitis, and bacterial infections of the tissue. In addition, anyone with an autoimmune condition that causes general inflammation, like lupus, is at a higher risk.

That might explain why it sometimes affects people with fibromyalgia. People with fibromyalgia are at a higher risk of developing autoimmune conditions, after all.

How Is It Treated?

The first step in treating the painful bumps caused by this condition is to treat the underlying inflammation.

In cases of panniculitis caused by infection, this is sometimes as easy as prescribing an antibiotic. But for cases caused by systematic inflammation, it can be a bit more complicated. Although, there are a number of medications that can be helpful.

NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are things like aspirin and ibuprofen. In other words, basic over-the-counter painkillers. But they’re not only good for treating the pain caused by the condition, but they also block the production of a certain enzyme that causes inflammation. This can help to manage the overall inflammation that leads to the condition.

There’s also something called corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are a hormone that the body produces naturally in response to inflammation. But when this natural hormone isn’t enough, doctors can prescribe synthetic corticosteroids to help bolster your body’s natural response.

The most important thing when it comes to treatment is to consult with your doctor. The condition can become dangerous if left untreated.

So, let us know, do you suffer from panniculitis? Do you think it could be related to your fibromyalgia? What do you do to treat it? Tell us in the comments.