Adiposis Dolorosa Pain Management

While current approaches to treatment focus on surgery, opiates, and other medications, health care providers may also consider ketamine infusion, electrostimulation, and perineural injections.

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Adiposis dolorosa (AD), or Dercum disease, is a rare disorder that was first described in 1888 and characterized by the National Organization of Rare Disorders (NORD) as a chronic pain condition of the adipose tissue generally found in patients who are overweight or obese.1,2 AD is more common in females aged 35 to 50 years and proposed to be a disease of postmenopausal women, though no prevalence studies exist.2 The etiology remains unclear.2 Several theories have been proposed, including endocrine and nervous system dysfunction, adipose tissue dysregulation, or pressure on peripheral nerves and chronic inflammation.2-4 Genetic, autoimmune, and trauma also have been proposed as a mechanism for developing the disease. Treatment modalities focusing on narcotic analgesics have been ineffective in long-term management.3

The objective of the case presentation is to report a variety of approaches for AD and their relative successes at pain control in order to assist other medical professionals who may come across patients with this rare condition.

Case Presentation

A 53-year-old male with a history of blast exposure-related traumatic brain injury, subsequent stroke with residual left hemiparesis, and seizure disorder presented with a 10-year history of nodule formation in his lower extremities causing restriction of motion and pain. The patient had previously undergone lower extremity fasciotomies for compartment syndrome with minimal pain relief. In addition, nodules over his abdomen and chest wall had been increasing over the past 5 years. He also experienced worsening fatigue, cramping, tightness, and paresthesias of the affected areas during this time. Erythema and temperature allodynia were noted in addition to an 80-pound weight gain. From the above symptoms and nodule excision showing histologic signs of lipomatous growth, a diagnosis of AD was made.

The following constitutes the approximate timetable of his treatments for 9 years. He was first diagnosed incidentally at the beginning of this period with AD during an electrodiagnostic examination. He had noticed the lipomas when he was in his 30s, but initially they were not painful. He was referred for treatment of pain to the physical medicine and rehabilitation department.

For the next 3 years, he was treated with prolotherapy. Five percent dextrose in water was injected around many of the painful lipomas in the upper extremities. He noted after the second round of neural prolotherapy that he had reduced swelling of his upper extremities and the lipomas decreased in size. He experienced mild improvement in pain and functional usage of his arms.

He continued to receive neural prolotherapy into the nodules in the arms, legs, abdomen, and chest wall. The number of painful nodules continued to increase, and the patient was started on hydrocodone 10 mg/acetaminophen 325 mg (1 tablet every 6 hours as needed) and methadone for pain relief. He was initially started on 5 mg per day of methadone and then was increased in a stepwise, gradual fashion to 10 mg in the morning and 15 mg in the evening. He transitioned to morphine sulfate, which was increased to a maximum dose of 45 mg twice daily. This medication was slowly tapered due to adverse effects (AEs), including sedation.

After weaning off morphine sulfate, the patient was started on lidocaine infusions every 3 months. Each infusion provided at least 50% pain reduction for 6 to 8 weeks. He was approved by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to have Vaser (Bausch Health, Laval, Canada) minimally invasive ultrasound liposuction treatment, performed at an outside facility. The patient was satisfied with the pain relief that he received and noted that the number of lipomas greatly diminished. However, due to funding issues, this treatment was discontinued after several months.

The patient had moderately good pain relief with methadone 5 mg in the morning, and 15 mg in the evening. However, the patient reported significant somnolence during the daytime with the regimen. Attempts to wean the patient off methadone was met with uncontrollable daytime pain. With suboptimal oral pain regimen, difficulty obtaining Vaser treatments, and limitation in frequency of neural prolotherapy, the decision was made to initiate 12 treatments of Calmare (Fairfield, CT) cutaneous electrostimulation.

During his first treatment, he had the electrodes placed on his lower extremities. The pre- and posttreatment 10-point visual analog scale (VAS) scores were 9 and 0, respectively, after the first visit. The position of the electrodes varied, depending on the location of his pain, including upper extremities and abdominal wall. During the treatment course, the patient experienced an improvement in subjective functional status. He was able to sleep in the same bed as his wife, shake hands without severe pain, and walk .25 mile, all of which he was unable to do before the electrostimulative treatment. He also reported overall improvement in emotional well-being, resumption of his hobbies (eg, playing the guitar), and social engagement. Methadone was successfully weaned off during this trial without breakthrough pain. This improvement in pain and functional status continued for several weeks; however, he had an exacerbation of his pain following a long plane flight. Due to uncertain reliability of pain relief with the procedure, the pain management service initiated a regimen of methadone 10 mg twice daily to be initiated when a procedure does not provide the desired duration of pain relief and gradually discontinued following the next interventional procedure.

The patient continued a regimen that included lidocaine infusions, neural prolotherapy, Calmare electrostimulative therapy, as well as lymphedema massage. Additionally, he began receiving weekly acupuncture treatments. He started with traditional full body acupuncture and then transitioned to battlefield acupuncture (BFA). Each acupuncture treatment provided about 50% improvement in pain on the VAS, and improved sleep for 3 days posttreatment.

However, after 18 months of the above treatment protocol, the patient experienced a general tonic-clonic seizure at home. Due to concern for the lowered seizure threshold, lidocaine infusions and methadone were discontinued. Long-acting oral morphine was initiated. The patient continued Calmare treatments and neural prolotherapy after a seizure-free interval. This regimen provided the patient with temporary pain relief but for a shorter duration than prior interventions.

Ketamine infusions were eventually initiated about 5 years after the diagnosis of AD was made, with postprocedure pain as 0/10 on the VAS. Pain relief was sustained for 3 months, with the notable AEs of hallucinations in the immediate postinfusion period. Administration consisted of the following: 500 mg of ketamine in a 500 mL bag of 0.9% NaCl. A 60-mg slow IV push was given followed by 60 mg/h increased every 15 min by 10 mg/h for a maximum dose of 150 mg/h. In a single visit the maximum total dose of ketamine administered was 500 mg. The protocol, which usually delivered 200 mg in a visit but was increased to 500 mg because the 200-mg dose was ineffective, was based on protocols at other institutions to accommodate the level of monitoring available in the Interventional Pain Clinic. The clinic also developed an infusion protocol with at least 1 month between treatments. The patient continues to undergo scheduled ketamine infusions every 14 weeks in addition to monthly BFA. The patient reported near total pain relief for about a month following ketamine infusion, with about 3 months of sustained pain relief. Each BFA session continues to provide 3 days of relief from insomnia. Calmare treatments and the neural prolotherapy regimen continue to provide effective but temporary relief from pain.


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