‘Docs said my swollen legs were just fat – but I actually had painful condition’
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A woman booked to see her doctor after her legs swelled up and left her in extreme discomfort.
But Theresa Fredenburg-Hinds said her GP had dismissed her painful pins as "just fat".
It was only when she went to a shop to buy special stockings that the assistant recognised her condition as lipoedema.
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Lipoedema, an abnormal build-up of fat in a person's legs and sometimes arms, can make day-to-day life difficult due to the pain caused.
And after being warned about the condition, Theresa sought specialist treatment.
The 36-year-old is now lipoedema campaigner with her own Instagram and TikTok accounts with 85,000 followers – and she spoke exclusively to Daily Star about her journey.
Theresa, who lives in Austin, Texas, had suffered from large legs since she was around eight but when she hit puberty noticed her thighs were growing larger and she was getting pains in her calves.
She told us: "I went to a speciality store and the woman working there took one look at my legs and told me I had a condition called lipoedema or lymphedema and gave me a pamphlet to give to my doctor.
"I'd heard of lipoedema and done my own research online, but to have it validated by this kind woman in the store I began to cry tears of joy."
However, despite going back to her doctor armed with the pamphlets and knowledge, the medic still refused to recognise she had lipoedema and told her she was "just obese".
Not to be put off, Theresa asked to be referred to a specialist where she finally got her official diagnosis of lipo-lympedmea, which is both lipoedema and lymphoedema.
Theresa said day to day the condition affects her and she has to wear custom-fit compression stockings to control the swelling and pain. She also has to sit at her desk at work with her legs elevated.
"I walk slower as I have to carry around my heavy bottom half with me to get where I need to go and I get tired and am unable to stand for long periods of time," she said.
"Finding chairs that fit my bottom can be a challenge sometimes. When going out in public to restaurants, theatres or appointments, chairs that have arms are often not ideal to fit my pear-shaped body.
"When I used to drive – I don't any more after an accident left me with PTSD – sitting in the busy rush hour traffic was very uncomfortable. Climbing stairs can also be a challenge as I am lifting my heavy legs up each step."
She also suffers from anxiety and depression. "I know women with lipoedema commonly deal with anxiety and depression as we are so misunderstood as just being obese," she said.
Fortunately, she doesn't get much abuse when out in public. "I don't get that much abuse from people in the street, or maybe I just don't notice. The more confident I have gotten, the less abuse I think I get," she said.
"Most often it's children that point out that I look different or that I am 'fat' which is not wrong. My body does look different and I am fat, but I do think it's rude to point out people's differences in public, especially when they are a stranger.
"Hearing this from kids is understandable as it's possible that they have not been taught – one little girl left me in tears."
But Theresa thinks times are changing and we are now more accepting of bodies of all shapes and sizes.
"Society has moved to a love of more curvy bodies and rounder butts, which does make living with lipoedema a little bit easier for me at least," she said.
Theresa now flaunts and shows off her "unique body" on TikTok and Instagram under the name @theresasweetpeach.
At first, it was a showcase for her new modelling career, but now she uses it to campaign for more understanding of lipoedema.
"The positive messages and comments I receive definitely outweigh the bad ones. If someone does make a rude comment online I often use it as a teaching moment and tell them about the condition I have," she said.
"By showing off my body, I am helping to create awareness of lipoedema. There may be another woman out there scrolling through Instagram and finding some comfort in finding a body that looks like hers and she may seek getting a diagnosis sooner because she saw my photos."
She has decided not to take the surgical route to tackle her lipoedema, relying just on compression stockings and a pneumatic pump that mimics a lymphatic massage.
"Some people that have lipoedema chose the route of liposuction to remove the diseased fat," she said.
"At this point this is not the route I want to go, but I may consider it in the future if my mobility is greatly decreased. "
Fortunately, her husband is supportive. "My husband is my biggest cheerleader and he is completely behind what I am doing. He is a very easy-going man and trusts me and loves me for who I am. He's very proud of me."
The couple enjoy a good sex life too.
"Some positions can be difficult since my legs are so large and painful, but I am satisfied in the bedroom," Theresa said.
Her Instagram account is also turning into a lucrative side hustle.
The TikToker added: "I am starting to make money on Instagram through reels and some small amounts through brand promotion – nowhere near enough to pay my bills but having a side hustle does help out in today's economy.
"I do receive a lot of free clothes, which is always nice. But it's not the compensation that drives me to do what I am doing.
"Ultimately making a difference in the world is the reason behind my journey. "
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