You may have heard the terms lipedema and lymphedema, and as the names sound so similar, it’s possible that you may think they are essentially the same thing. However, that is not the case. In fact, there are many differences and it is important to know the differences between lipedema and lymphedema, especially if you may be suffering from one or the other.
First, of all the pronunciation, and spelling of each of these conditions is different. Lipedema is pronounced “lip-eh-deem-ah,” while Lymphedema is pronounced “limf-eh-deem-ah.” The close pronunciation similarities often lead to confusion or thinking that they are the same condition.
The causes of the two different conditions are also different. Lipedema is the abnormal accumulation of excess fat, usually in the legs. Lymphedema is the accumulation of lymph fluids in the tissues, where it causes swelling.
It should be noted that while there are several differences, lipedema may progress into lymphedema. It should also be noted that neither of these conditions are based on a person’s weight or size, and each is often misdiagnosed as obesity.
Lipedema always affect both legs and presents with a near symmetrical appearance. In other words, both legs will become large. Alternatively, lymphedema will usually affect only one leg. Should lymphedema affect both legs, the swelling will be asymmetric—one leg will be larger than the other. The feet are not impacted in those suffering from lipedema, but will generally become swollen with lymphedema patients.
The Stemmer sign also provides a differentiating marker between the two. Lymphedema can be positively identified when a skin fold cannot be lifted; rather, only a lump of tissue can be grasped. This is very important when lipedema starts to develop into lymphedema.
Those suffering from lipedema have tissue that has a soft rubbery feel, and pressure from a thumb or finger will not leave a pit or indentation. Lymphedema will leave indentation or pitting, especially in the later stages.
Another telling difference between lipedema and lymphedema is the presence of pain. Lipedema is painful to the touch, while lymphedema is not. Also, lipedema sufferers will bruise easily, while those with lymphedema will not.