Panniculus is a medical term to describe a layer or membrane of tissue. This term is often used specifically in discussions of very large layers of lower abdominal fat, which may be separated by grade to better describe the extent of the fat and its impact on the patient. In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery because panniculus can pose health risks. Other patients may opt for surgical treatment for aesthetic reasons.
In terms like “panniculus adiposus,” the term refers simply to a layer of regular fatty tissue. All animals have deposits of fat, allowing them to store energy and absorb physical impacts. These deposits can become a problem if they grow especially pronounced. In the case of abdominal fat, it can start to grow over and beyond the abdomen, eventually covering the genitals and potentially extending even further, passing the knees. This can cause considerable discomfort for the patient.
One risk with panniculus is the tendency to form skin folds. These tend to be dark, moist, and warm, making them an ideal breeding ground for organisms like bacteria and fungi. Patients can develop severe skin infections, and may experience large ulcerations and lesions from unchecked growth of microorganisms. In addition to causing an unpleasant odor, this will expose patients to risks like septicemia, where an infection enters the bloodstream and can potentially cause multiple organs to fail.
The weight of panniculus can also distort a patient's posture and may cause strain on the back. Patients and doctors may also believe there is a dangerous growth like a tumor inside. It can be hard to perform diagnostic tests because the fatty tissue makes it difficult to identify structures inside the panniculus, and a patient may need invasive testing to find out more about what is happening inside.
Patients sometimes have a mild panniculus after pregnancy, until the body recovers and the skin rebounds, tightening back up over the lower abdomen. Major weight loss can also leave behind pockets of skin and loose fat, and patients may need surgery to remove skin folds once their weight stabilizes. This will make them feel more comfortable, reduce the risks of infection, and allow the natural contours of their bodies to emerge. Significant weight gain can also cause panniculus, and a surgeon may ask a patient to lose weight before performing surgery to remove the excess tissue, as being significantly overweight can be dangerous in surgery.