Identifying lipedema vs. lymphedema can be difficult because there are several similarities between the two conditions. Lipedema can be especially challenging to diagnose because of the symptoms and the way they present. In some ways, the two issues are inextricably linked, but the differences between lipedema and lymphedema can be determined nevertheless. Pinpointing those differences can help you to receive the correct diagnosis. You’ll have a better idea of what to look for and what to discuss with your doctor. Know that there are treatment options for both conditions. Whether you have lipedema, lymphedema, or both — which can occur — you can reclaim your life and body.
To get to the bottom of the differences regarding lipedema vs. lymphedema, we’re going to outline the common symptoms of each condition, as well as possible treatment options for both of them. Let’s start with lipedema.
Symptoms of Lipedema
When studying lipedema vs. lymphedema, it’s important to realize that the biggest differences lie in the presentation of the symptoms. Lipedema can start slowly. In some cases, it so closely resembles weight gain and cellulite that it’s often mistakenly diagnosed as obesity.
In truth, those extra pounds and patches of “cellulite” are fatty deposits. They occur in the legs, typically beginning in the ankles and calves, but they can affect the knees and thighs, as well, especially if the lipedema progresses beyond stage I or stage II.
At first, the excess lumps of fat and adipose tissue do not cause pain. They feel soft and malleable to the touch. In time, however, they begin to hurt. In the beginning stages of the condition, hot packs, compression garments, and elevating your legs can help. In the later stages, however, those treatments may no longer bring relief.
Because lipedema strikes equally, both legs and/or both arms will be affected, which can make it difficult to walk as the swelling gets worse. You begin to carry around extra weight in your limbs, which takes a toll on your body.
Causes of Lipedema
Not much is known or understood about the cause of lipedema, which is one of the definitive differences between lipedema and lymphedema. We do know that lipedema impacts more women than men. It tends to occur during major hormonal shifts, such as during or after pregnancy or with menopause.
Obesity is not believed to be the cause of lipedema. More importantly, losing weight will not cure lipedema. However, obesity can exacerbate the condition. Losing weight may help to alleviate symptoms by taking pressure off the joints.
Treatments for Lipedema
Many of the treatments for lipedema vs. lymphedema are similar. To begin with, elevation and compression garments can help. Lymphatic drainage massage may provide some relief, as well. Your treatment specialist may suggest a gentle exercise regime involving low-impact activities, such as yoga or water aerobics. Once lipedema progresses, then liposuction is the best way to get rid of the excess fat and remove the pressure from your joints and muscles.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
When examining the symptoms of lipedema vs. lymphedema, we understand more about lymphedema because we know more about its cause. The symptoms include swelling in one leg or one arm, not both. The swelling is caused by a blockage that impedes lymphatic drainage. The tissues in the affected limb swell and become inflamed, resulting in pain and problems with mobility. If left untreated, lymphedema can cause tissue damage, as well.
Causes of Lymphedema
One of the defining differences between lipedema and lymphedema is that lymphedema is a lymphatic system disorder, so we know what causes it. Although it may occur spontaneously as a congenital disorder, people are more often affected by lymphedema following treatment for cancer.
Whereas lipedema isn’t caused by obesity, morbid obesity can cause lymphedema. It can also be exacerbated by being severely overweight. Serious cellulitis infections may also contribute to this disorder.
Treatments for Lymphedema
Many treatment options for lipedema vs. lymphedema are the same. In the beginning stages of lymphedema, for example, your doctor or plastic surgeon may recommend exercise, a healthy eating plan, and compression garments. Depending on the severity of the blockage and fluid buildup, you may need a drain to get rid of excess fluid. Lymphatic drainage massage is also helpful for lymphedema. You can talk to your doctor about medication options, as well. Certain medications can treat lymphedema in its initial stages.
Once the disorder progresses, then surgical intervention becomes necessary. Your doctor will guide you through your surgical treatment options. In some instances, a lymph node transfer may be in order.
Under other circumstances, liposuction may be able to bring you some relief. As with liposuction procedures for lipedema, it can remove fatty deposits and fluid. It can also help you to regain your former body shape following successful treatment.
To learn more about lipedema vs. lymphedema, their symptoms, and your treatment options, schedule a consultation with one of our double board certified plastic surgeons today. Find out how we can help you on your journey to health and wellness. We can help you to get back the body you love!