Lymphedema or lipedema – What is the difference?


Lymphedema and lipedema diseases occur almost exclusively in women and, especially in the early stages, trigger similar symptoms from. In some cases, both diseases can occur together if lymphedema develops in addition to lipedema.

So what is the difference between the two diseases?

Lipedema is a Fat distribution disorder, which occurs in the legs and rarely on the upper arms. It is unclear what causes the disease. However, researchers suspect a defect in the estrogen balance. More lymph fluid is produced in the body than is needed. This cannot be broken down by the body and accumulates. As a result, the tissue swells, causing pathological changes in the fatty tissue in the extremities. For those affected, the disease is very painful. The swollen extremities react excessively to external pressure and bruising occurs even with light touch. In addition, the swollen thighs become sore.

Everyday movements are restricted by the disease, so that affected persons suffering from lipedema in a severe status are not infrequently dependent on a rollator or wheelchair. In addition, those affected suffer from the psychological consequences of the disease. Thus, the disease is often not recognized and labeled as obesity. Also, the conservative therapeutic approaches for the disease, such as exercise, healthy diet and lymphatic drainage, do not bring improvement in many cases.

What is lymphedema?

This condition causes a buildup of lymph fluid in the tissuewhich causes the tissue to swell. In contrast to lipedema, which spreads evenly, lymphedema can be either on one or more limbs occur. It therefore spreads asymmetrically. A distinction is made between primary and secondary lymphedema.

The primary type is innate, as in this case the lymphatic channels and lymph nodes are not properly formed. The disease can be recognized by the fact that it rises from the top to the bottom. It starts in the feet and spreads from there to the thighs. In 94% of cases, this form of lymphedema occurs in the legs.

manual lymphatic drainage can provide help for lymphodema.

A secondary lymphedema occurs as a result of surgery, injury or illness occur. In most cases, the symptoms occur on one side and move from top to bottom, for example from the armpit to the hand. They can also occur as a result of infection by viruses, bacteria, fungi or insects, or years after surgery. The condition can also be triggered by certain chemotherapies.

Secondary lymphedema affects the arms in more than 60% of cases, with the remaining cases distributed among the legs, neck, or other parts of the body.

A sign of the presence of lymphedema is the swollen, as opposed to lipedema “box toes”. Another sign of lymphodema is the so-called “Stemmer’s sign”. This means that the fold of skin between the toes, if the legs are affected, or between the fingers, if the arms are affected, can no longer be moved or lifted. Usually, the condition is not painful as long as there is no inflammation. Nevertheless, the disease should definitely be treated.

Treatment of lipedema and lymphedema

There are some similarities in the treatment of both diseases. Both diseases are not curable, therefore the disease should be detected and treated at the earliest possible stage. In both diseases, “Complex Physical Decongestive Therapy”, consisting of compression therapy and manual lymphatic drainage, can be applied to remove excess tissue. Subsequently, the effect of the therapy is enhanced by wearing compression stockings and exercise. Lymphedema can be kept in check in most cases with consistent decongestive therapy.

Ideally, if the lymphatic tissues are decongested regularly, lymphedema does not affect the patient too intensely. With lipedema in a severe status, these conservative treatment methods often only help to a limited extent. Here is often a Liposuction, that is, liposuction, inevitable.