Wednesday, May 5

When fat accumulation becomes disease: differences between lipedema and lymphedema

Two medical terms that can be misused are lipedema and lymphedema. The similarity between the two words could suggest that they can be used indifferently, but the truth is that lipedema and lymphedema are not related at all, one refers to accumulation of fatty tissue in the arms and legs and the other refers to accumulation of lymphatic fluid in an arm or leg

There are doctors who use both terms indifferently as if they were dealing with the same thing.. As will be seen below, lipedema and lymphedema refer to different things that are not to be confused with each other.

Characteristics of lipedema

Lipedema consists of the pathological accumulation of fat in the body. This is a chronic inflammatory disease that encourages the uncontrolled accumulation of adipose tissue.

The pathological accumulation of adipose tissue in the legs and arms is called lipedema. Photo: Pixabay

This accumulation of adipose tissue has two main centers; the legs, starting from the hips or thighs to the ankles, and the arms, from the shoulders to the wrists, being more frequent in the upper part.

Although is a condition that can manifest itself in both men and women, it is more frequent to see in females, so it is possible that the hormonal factor plays a role in the development of the disease.

It was only in May 2018 that the World Health Organization recognized lipedema as a disease, which happened when it was added to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD 11).


This condition not only represents an aesthetic problem since the patient may experience pain and inconvenience as a consequence of the pathological accumulation of fat and the symptoms that derive from it, which is composed of:

  • Difficulties to get around
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Stress
  • Unsafety
  • Problems bending the joints

Lymphedema characteristics

Lymphedema is a type of swelling that usually occurs in one of the arms or legs., although there are cases where both limbs are swollen. There is currently no cure for this disease, but it can be controlled with early diagnosis.

Lymphedema is mainly caused by removal or damage to the lymph nodes within the framework of cancer treatment. An obstruction occurs that prevents the node from draining, causing the accumulation of lymphatic fluid.

Continuing the above, it is possible that lymphedema caused by cancer treatment does not appear until months or even years later after the completion of treatment, making it difficult to identify its cause.


Symptoms that manifest in the limb affected by lymphedema include the following:

  • Partial or total swelling of the affected arm or leg, including the fingers or toes.
  • Feeling of heaviness or stiffness
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Recurrent infections
  • Hardening and thickening of the skin (fibrosis)

Differentiate lipedema and lymphedema it is a complicated matter even for specialists, which is why an adequate diagnosis requires a sufficiently long medical experience for the correct characterization of the disease.

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