Is There A Difference Between Lipedema and Lymphedema?

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Lipedema and lymphedema 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. This is one of the main reasons why lipedema specialists like Dr. Jaime Schwartz are working diligently to find out more answers and get more patients properly diagnosed. Dr. Schwartz is also a board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of Total Lipedema Care in Beverly Hills, CA. These misunderstood and complicated disorders need more answers, and specialized surgeons like Dr. Schwartz are working on getting patients an early diagnosis and intervention to improve their quality of life while living with such disorders. 


The lipedema breakdown

Lipedema, also referred to as “painful fat syndrome,” is a chronic disease that exclusively seems to target women and appears to be genetic. It is characterized as symmetrical fatty tissue that is bilateral and excessive in mainly the lower extremities. Extreme inflammation and swelling occurs and worsens when standing. This is a condition that is progressive, so it manifests into different stages and can become physically debilitating if left untreated. Male lipedema patients are extremely rare, as this condition seems to revolve around a woman’s hormones. The fat accumulation in the subcutaneous tissue can become painful or sensitive to the touch and doesn’t involve a patient’s feet (or hands if present in the upper arms). 


Common characteristics of Lipedema include: 

  • Pathologic fatty deposits that occur in the lower extremities and occasionally the arms
  • Symmetrical, affecting both legs/arms equally
  • Fatty deposits occur spontaneously and become painful
  • Can impede physical mobility and cause skeletal issues over time
  • Lymphatic sparing liposuction is a beneficial treatment option 
  • Medical devices like compression garments can be worn to lessen inflammation or swelling
  • A condition that worsens with obesity or gaining weight
  • May be associated with lymphedema, especially in the legs


A breakdown on  lymphedema 

Lymphedema is a disorder that involves the circulation of lymph fluid and how it relates to a patient’s lymphatic system. When the lymphatic fluid becomes blocked, swelling in the legs or arms can be the result. Lymphedema is also directly correlated to a patient’s immune system, explaining why patients in Beverly Hills or throughout the United States can develop this disorder if they have endured radiation therapy for cancer treatments or had lymph nodes removed. In a small sample of lymphedema patients, their condition was spontaneous or congenital. Unlike lipedema, it is generally seen in one arm or leg, thus an asymmetrical condition. 


Common characteristics of lymphedema include:

  • A disorder involving the lymphatic system
  • Can be congenital (spontaneous) but usually seen in patients who have had cancer treatments
  • Asymmetrical affecting one leg or arm
  • A condition that worsens with obesity or weight gain
  • Highly technical surgeries can treat this disorder by decreasing excessive volume in the legs or arms 


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 affected areas and should be performed by a trained medical professional or specialist like Dr. Schwartz. There is no definitive test for lipedema, but specific markers in a blood test can be reliable indicators. Patients are encouraged to find centers like Total Lipedema Care in Beverly Hills for additional emotional and therapeutic support as well as surgical treatment options like liposuction or removal of excessive buildup. Supplements and dietary instructions can also be provided. 


Dr. Jaime Schwartz is a recognized medical expert throughout the country with disorders such as lymphedema and lipedema. Reach out to Dr. Schwartz and his team at Total Lipedema Care (TLC) to help you manage your health and live a better life if you are dealing with either of these diseases. If you are concerned about lipedema or lymphedema, we invite you to call and schedule a consultation with board-certified plastic surgeon and lipedema specialist, Dr. Schwartz, today.


* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.