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What is a Buffalo Hump?

By Laura Evans
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A buffalo hump is a fat pad on the back of the neck between the shoulders. This hump, which also called a dorsocervical fat pad, is a symptom of several medical conditions. Among the causes of this condition are obesity and Cushing syndrome. Dorsocervical fat pad treatments are based on the illness that led to the creation of the hump.

A person who has a dorsocervical fat pad should make an appointment with his physician in order to determine the underlying cause of the buffalo hump. The physician will conduct a physical exam as well as ask about the person's medical history, such as what types of medication the person is taking. In addition, the doctor may request diagnostic tests. These tests might include blood or urine tests, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test of the head, or a computed tomography (CT) of the head or abdomen.

In addition to extreme obesity or Cushing syndrome, some medications prescribed for treating acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) can lead to a buffalo hump. Taking steroids over a long period of time can also result in a dorsocervical fat pad. Sometimes a curve in the back is not a buffalo hump. For example, the back curvature that can occur from osteoporosis doesn't have the fat content.

If the diagnosis is Cushing syndrome, other symptoms that the person may be experiencing include muscle weakness, facial flushing, and bone loss. This syndrome is caused by the body overproducing the hormone cortisol or because a person is taking too much corticosteroid medication. Treatments include slowly decreasing the amount of corticosteroid medication being consumed, radiation therapy, surgery, medication, or a combination of treatments. Cushing syndrome is potentially life threatening.

Protease inhibitors (PI) are drugs that are used to treat AIDS. PIs may affect the way that the body metabolizes and places fat in the body, resulting in fat abnormalities such as buffalo humps. The person's doctor may recommend changing to another type of AIDS medication or may recommend lowering the PI dosages. In some cases the physician may recommend staying on PIs at the current levels because PIs are working so well for the individual.

When a buffalo hump is caused by obesity, a physician may recommend lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes would include starting a low-fat diet and beginning a reasonable exercise program designed to slowly and safely lose weight. The size of the hump may start to reduce as the body loses fat overall.

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Discussion Comments
By Clairdelune — On Jun 07, 2011

It's hard enough having HIV-positive, but add to that having a buffalo hump. An article I read tells about a doctor in California, who has removed buffalo humps from many patients with HIV-positive.

This doctor was the first to remove the hump from HIV-positive people. He has people with HIV-positive come to him from all over the world. A high percentage of his patients never have the hump come back after the procedure

One patient talked about his bitterness before surgery. He was devastated by his disfiguring hump. He stayed inside most of the time, didn't take off his shirt and go to the beach. Dating was non-existent. After the procedure, he got his life back and was so happy.

By PinkLady4 — On Jun 05, 2011

Sometimes the condition, buffalo hump, can be caused by obesity. If a patient tries to change his diet and exercise habits, but isn't successful, doctor might recommend removal of the buffalo hump by a procedure called lipodystrophy, also called buffalo hump removal by liposuction.

After surgery, it is very important to wear a compression garment for several reasons. It provides pressure to rid the body of toxic fluids, helps improve blood circulation, makes swelling go down, and helps the body to recover faster.

It may have to be worn for several weeks after surgery.

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