A WOMAN who was told by doctors her huge legs were “just fat” was left in tears when a stranger helped her discover the truth.
Theresa Fredenburg-Hinds, 36, had larger legs as a child, and they grew even more as she went through puberty.
They became painful and left her in extreme discomfort.
Theresa said her doctor did nothing but dismiss her painful pins as "just fat".
But when she went to a shop to buy special stockings to help with the pain, a shop assistant recognised her condition as lipoedema.
She told the Daily Star: “The woman working there took one look at my legs and told me I had a condition called lipoedema or lymphoedema and gave me a pamphlet to give to my doctor.
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"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."
Lipoedema, thought to be caused by hormones, is the abnormal build-up of fat in a person's legs and sometimes arms.
It is more common in women and usually first appears as legs that are out-of-proportion with the upper body – the legs may just appear larger than expected.
The affected skin feels soft and cool and may be dimpled with an "orange peel" texture.
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Lymphoedema, on the other hand, is swelling of the body tissues, particularly the arms and legs.
It develops when the lymphatic system does not work properly and excess fluid cannot drain from the body.
Theresa sought specialist treatment after speaking to the shop assistant, leading her to confirm a diagnosis of combined lipo-lympoedmea.
This was despite the fact a doctor refused to recognise her condition, telling her she was “just obese”, when she went in armed with the pamphlets.
Theresa’s condition affects every aspect of her life.
"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.
"I know women with lipoedema commonly deal with anxiety and depression as we are so misunderstood as just being obese.”
Theresa wears custom-made compression stockings to control the swelling and pain.
She has decided not to take the surgical route, but said she may consider it in the future if her mobility is greatly reduced.
Theresa, who is married, said she’s grateful that she “doesn’t get that much abuse” – but it may be because she “just doesn’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."
Theresa shows off her "unique body" on TikTok and Instagram under the name @theresasweetpeach, with 85,000 followers.
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.”
"By showing off my body, I am helping to create awareness of lipoedema.”
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Theresa’s “biggest cheerleader” is her husband, who she says is “very proud” of her work.
The couple enjoy a good sex life too, as Theresa said: "Some positions can be difficult since my legs are so large and painful, but I am satisfied in the bedroom.”
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