Diabetes is a very common condition in the U.S., affecting around 34.2 million Americans – and about 26%, or 14.3 million of them, are adults 65 and older. Diabetes can lead to other more serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke, but it can also cause issues that are not as serious, but that should be identified and taken care of as soon as possible. One of these conditions is lipohypertrophy, which causes a lump of thickened tissue under the skin. You might be wondering what this is, if it will go away, and how serious it is, so let’s take a look at this often overlooked side effect of diabetes.
What is Lipohypertrophy?
Lipohypertrophy is a lump of thickened tissue that develops in the fat layer of your skin and occurs regularly around injection sites for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. In fact, up to 62% of people with type 1 or 2 diabetes can develop lipohypertrophy.
Causes & Risk
These lumps occur when diabetes patients constantly inject insulin into the same spot. And while it’s natural to be concerned if you see a lump develop on your body, don’t worry, the lumps are not malignant. With that being said, there is some cause for concern, because if you are injecting into these lumps, your body might not be absorbing all of the insulin you are injecting, which can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels).
Some risk factors that can increase your chances of developing lipohypertrophy include:
- Being older and/or having a higher body mass index (BMI)
- Incorrectly injecting your insulin
- Using the same injection site each time rather than rotating several sites
- Reusing needles
A 2020 study involving 1,227 people taking insulin for type 2 diabetes showed that structural changes in aging skin might put people older than 65 years at a higher risk of developing these lumps.
Symptoms of Lipohypertrophy
The lumps that can form at injection sites vary in size and appearance. The main symptom of lipohypertrophy is the raised skin/lump, but there are other symptoms that can occur:
- Thicker skin
- Discomfort, but not pain (which is why many people do not notice and continue injecting into the same site)
- Skin that is hot or warm to the touch
- Bleeding or bruising
Rotating your injections sites is the most important preventive step you can take, and the best way to treat any lumps that develop is to avoid injecting at the site. Changing where you inject your insulin can help reduce the size of the lump or even help it disappear. When injecting, you should stick to your stomach, upper arm, upper glutes, and thighs: the American Diabetes Association notes that the body absorbs insulin fastest from the abdomen, less quickly from the arm, and slowest from the glutes and thighs.
And if the lump or lumps do not go away, there are medical or cosmetic solutions for getting rid of them: you can take steroids to minimize the lump, or get liposuction to remove the thick skin. Removal is not necessary since the lumps are not dangerous, but you do have the option to do so if you are uncomfortable with their appearance.
If you are concerned about a lump that has developed and want to make sure it is due to thickened skin or from injecting in the same spot, visit your doctor so you can get examined. This is important because lipohypertrophy can interfere with how your body absorbs your insulin, which can be dangerous: if your sugar levels get too low or too high, it can lead to a stroke or death.
If you’re on Medicare, seeing a doctor and getting treated for these lumps will be covered, but you will still have out-of-pocket expenses, such as your Part B deductible and 20% Part B coinsurance, which can add up to a lot. It’s worth looking into a Medicare Supplement Plan to save as much money as you can, so speak to an EZ agent for all of your options. EZ’s agents work with the top-rated companies in the nation and can compare plans in minutes for you at no cost. To get free instant quotes for plans that cover your current doctors, simply enter your zip code in the bar on the side, or to speak to a licensed agent, call 888-753-7207.