A Literally Massive Problem


This case involves a rare entity: vast lymphedema of the pannus leading to the formation of a pendulous mass so large that it filled the space between the patient’s legs, causing pain and discomfort. These findings are analogous to those seen in advanced venous insufficiency. Both manifestations share a name: elephantiasis nostras verrucosa. (Neither has anything to do with the more notorious cases of filarial elephantiasis seen in tropical locations.)

Elephantiasis nostras verrucosa of the lower extremities involves striking skin changes: edema, along with extreme thickening, papularity, and roughness of the skin. These typically manifest downward from just below the knee. The condition represents the effects of late-stage chronic venous insufficiency, often worsened by obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Other causes of dependent lymphedema, such as congestive heart failure, can also contribute to the problem.

This same pathophysiologic process can affect other areas as well—including the pannus, as seen in this case. Since I had only ever encountered this problem in legs, I did a literature search. I found several references, all of which indicated that surgical removal (panniculectomy) was the best treatment. I could not find any information on the success rate of this surgery, but I did refer the patient back to the surgeon, who had made the correct diagnosis.


  • Elephantiasis nostras verrucosa (ENV) is a consequence of uncontrolled venous insufficiency that commonly manifests on lower extremities.
  • ENV is a distinctly rare (though not unknown) problem when areas other than legs are affected.
  • This patient’s condition is, in my opinion, beyond the reach of medical treatment. But in milder cases, approaches such as weight loss and use of diuretics have been tried with mixed success.
  • The best treatment appears to be surgical removal, which is not without potential complications: risk for infection, pain, prolonged recovery time, and wound dehiscence; these issues were discussed thoroughly with the case patient.

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