Stacey Hicks: Differential Diagnosis of Lymphedema vs Lipedema

By: Stacey Hicks

There are many forms of edema in medical terminology. Edema simply means swelling.

You may be aware of the edema called lymphedema. This particular swelling can be caused by inadequate lymphatic vessels or can be caused by a surgical procedure or treatment to address cancer. What you may be less aware of is something called lipedema.

Lipedema is a condition caused by the abnormal overgrowth of fat storage cells in the skin. This fat tends to deposit in the buttocks and legs or in the upper arms tending to leave the feet and hands unaffected.

What is unique about this type of edema is that it almost exclusively affects women suggesting that it may be hormonally driven. Most women who develop lipedema tend to do so at times of major change such as puberty, child birth or menopause.

The limbs tend to be very tender to the touch which is unlike lymphedema. These patients often complain that they also bruise very easily. This is often referred to as the disease of fat yet tends to be affected in a very limited way by caloric intake.

Unlike lymphedema the risk of infections like cellulitis tend not to be an issue.

Patients with lipedema can often recall a family member that had legs and hips that resembled theirs as there is a potential hereditary component.

Recognition of this condition is important so that patients and doctors can initiate treatment aimed at early exercise in an aquatherapy environment as well as recommend light compression to avoid developing lipolymphedema which can develop as this condition progresses.

Understanding this condition of abnormal fat deposition can help give patients some direction and support. A great resource for patients and physicians can be found at

The Carlisle Place in Jefferson has two trained therapists in CDT with more than 15 years of experience in treating lymphedema. Call (603) 586-4100 for more information.

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