Lymphedema and Lipedema are two medical disorders that involve swelling in the arms and lower extremities. Lipedema occurs almost exclusively in women and is a symmetric, pathologic deposition of fatty accumulation or “fluid fat buildup” in the legs, hips, thighs, and upper arms. Lymphedema is a medical condition that involves a dysfunction or flow of lymph fluid through the legs or arms revolving around the lymphatic system.
Both conditions can be overlooked or misdiagnosed as a weight problem or obesity. These misunderstood and complicated disorders need more intervention, and we are happy to offer non-invasive treatments to effectively manage and improve the quality of life.
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is an excess build-up of fluid in the arms or lower legs. Where lipedema is primarily a condition that is characterized by increased fatty tissue in the affected areas, lymphedema is essentially a build-up of lymph fluid in these tissues. Lymphedema occurs because of a blockage in your lymphatic system which is part of your immune system. The blockage prevents your lymph fluid from draining properly and the build-up of excess fluid causes swelling. The causes of lymphedema can be divided into primary or secondary; primary, where it occurs on its own or secondary, where it occurs as a result of another disease or condition. Primary lymphedema is rare and inherited and can develop in infancy, during puberty or pregnancy or in some cases after the age of 35. Secondary lymphedema can be caused by injury to lymph nodes in surgery, exposure to radiation treatments for cancer or an infection of the lymph nodes.
Interestingly, lymphedema can also occur secondary to lipedema. The reason for this is that the increased fatty tissue in lipedema can compress and strangle the very delicate lymphatic tracts/vessels and impede the flow of lymph fluid resulting in a build-up of lymphatic fluid – aka lymphedema. Those suffering from lymphedema experience different symptoms than those with lipedema. Lymphedema sufferer’s skin tends to be more tolerant and not painful to touch. They also don’t bruise as easily and do not suffer from hormonal disturbance.
What is Lipedema?
Lipedema (also known as lipoedema) is a chronic disorder of fat metabolism and distribution which usually manifests as a disproportionate amount of fat being stored in the lower half of the body. While lipedema may affect both men and women, it’s most commonly seen in women. Lipedema sufferers will present a disproportionate amount of fat stored in the outer thighs, inner thighs, lower legs and ankles and sometimes the upper arms. In severe cases, the fatty collections can be quite disfiguring, leading to problems with joints and mobility. The cause of lipedema is unknown however many doctors believe it is linked to hormones, particularly in women as many symptoms develop or worsen during times of extreme hormonal changes such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause. Those suffering from lipedema experience hormonal disturbances, frequent bruising of the skin and develop tissue that feels rubbery to touch. Lipedema is a progressive disease and will worsen with age. Some studies have shown that lipedema may run in families.
Comparing Lymphedema and Lipedema
Lymphedema is an asymmetrical condition that is usually acquired when the lymphatic system is damaged with trauma, surgery, or an infection. It can also be congenital with hereditary changes to the lymphatic system. Symmetry is a hallmark trademark of lipedema. Both legs or arms are affected, excluding the feet and hands. Patients with a slower lymphatic system can have changes that occur where swelling continues to spread to other areas of the body. This condition can be known as Lipo-Lymphedema and is a development of both disorders at the same time.
A proper diagnosis requires a manual inspection of the affected areas and should be performed by an expert. There is no definitive test for lipedema, but specific markers in a blood test can be reliable indicators.