If you’re unhappy with the appearance of your thighs, you might be wondering if there is a medical reason. Many women suffer from uneven and lumpy skin on their buttocks, hips, and thighs. This orange peel appearance could be because of cellulite. However, there is another more serious problem that can cause uneven fat buildup in this area. Lipedema is a less well-known condition. Nevertheless, 11% of women suffer from it. No wonder, then, that so many people are now asking, “Cellulite vs Lipedema, which do I have?”
Cellulite and lipedema may seem like similar conditions, given how they both cosmetically affect the skin. However, there are a handful of key differences between these two conditions, including their appearance, symptoms, causes, and treatment.
Here are the key differences:
Below, you will find a more detailed background on both conditions, including the underlying causes of each condition, symptoms you may notice, and possible treatment options.
What is Cellulite?
Cellulite is categorized as an accumulation of fatty deposits just beneath the skin’s surface that push through the underlying connective tissue, resulting in visible dimpling or puckering, giving the skin an “orange peel” appearance. Commonly referred to as “cottage cheese thighs” in women’s magazines, and health and wellness sites, cellulite doesn’t discriminate. The dreaded dimpling affects nearly 90% of all women of all body types, irrespective of body composition or fitness level. Nothing to be ashamed about, cellulite is extremely common and is more of a superficial inconvenience, if anything.
Cellulite can cause the presence of small “dimples” in the skin, especially when the skin is squeezed or pinched. Generally, these dimples can cause the skin to appear as bumpy or uneven, although this often depends on how shallow or deep the dimples are.
What is Lipedema?
Lipedema, on the other hand, is an acute disorder of adipose tissue in the lower extremities of the body, affecting mostly women. Lipedema is a medical disorder categorized by visually enlarged, column-like legs, including the hips and flanks. Oddly, a major characteristic of Lipedema is it almost never affects the feet of the sufferer, thus creating an asymmetrical shape and disproportionate contour to the lower body. Common unappealing nicknames often include, “cankles” or “elephant legs” and the unsightly symmetry of the lower body often socially isolates its victims. Lipedema develops when fat deposits heavily beneath the skin’s surface, much like its cellulite counterpart, but leaves the outlying skin extremely sensitive, cold and painful to the touch, and spongy. If left untreated, those who suffer from lipedema will often see a progression from stage one to stage four, leaving skin to become easily bruised and veiny, causing immense personal discomfort, and ultimately, limiting mobility and diminishing enjoyment of life. Untreated stage four progression of lipedema can also adversely affect the body’s crucial lymphatic system, leading to a host of other health challenges. Classified as a medical condition, as opposed to a cosmetic condition like cellulite, lipedema requires a more personalized, comprehensive approach to treatment, including overall lifestyle and dietary modifications that may or may not be successful.
Lipedema occurs in stages, with symptoms becoming progressively worse as the disease progresses. Depending on the stage, symptoms of lipedema may include:
symmetrical swelling of the legs or arms
skin that feels “spongy”
skin that is sensitive to the touch
skin that bruises easily
skin that has excess varicose or spider veins
consistent pain or swelling in the legs that changes or becomes worse throughout the day or with activity
Treating Both Conditions
Both cellulite and lipedema are hard to treat. There are many treatments for cellulite although not all are equally effective. Some topical lotions and creams can reduce cellulite’s appearance. Also, working out may reduce the appearance of cellulite while body brushing can detoxify the fat cells. By making lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking, taking more exercise, and eating healthily, you may improve your appearance.
Lipedema, on the other hand, is much harder to improve. Exercise and diet won’t help to eliminate the problem. Doctors usually recommend compression therapy and massage as a conservative measure.
Which Condition Do I Have?
Lipedema and cellulite are very different. As lipedema progresses, it should become clear that you suffer from it. Cellulite sufferers see dimpling of the buttocks, hips, and thighs. This has an appearance similar to an orange peel. Cellulite will also respond well if you make lifestyle and dietary changes. Although cellulite may be embarrassing, it won’t be painful or affect your overall health.
Abnormal fat cells cause lipedema. This makes it very hard to treat. It won’t respond to lifestyle or dietary changes. It may also limit your mobility and will be painful when touched. In its later stages, it can cause problems with your lymphatic system. This can result in even more medical issues.
Treating Both Problems
Whether you’re a cellulite or lipedema sufferer, we offer non-invasive treatments that help improve both conditions. It requires a specific expertise to be able to identify and treat these conditions. If you are unsure what condition you suffer from or would like some guidance on your treatment plan, we are proud to offer a doctor designed lymphatic function screening to determine what modalities are best for you.