Lipedema and lymphedema are two distinct medical conditions although both can cause swelling of the arms and the legs. 

What is lipedema?

Lipedema is a chronic condition characterized by progressive accumulation of fat in the tissues just below the skin. It occurs spontaneously and usually affects women. Although it can occur in the arms, lipedema is most common in the lower extremities such as the hips, buttocks, and legs. 

The exact cause of lipedema is still unknown but its development is associated with heredity and hormonal disorders. 

Lipedema is often misunderstood and usually mistaken as obesity. Unlike obesity, the fat distribution in lipedema is disproportionate to the normal distribution of fat in the body. The fatty areas that result from this condition resemble fatty tumors and are often painful to touch. 

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a condition that involves the lymphatic system. It occurs when there is blockage in the flow of the lymphatic fluid. It can be a result of a medical condition or a side effect of treatment (it is common among breast cancer patients who had their lymph nodes removed). 

In many cases, lymphedema affects one extremity, either an arm or a leg.  

The Key Differences

Although both lipedema and lymphedema cause swelling of the affected extremity, they have key differences: 


In lipedema, both of the legs are usually affected. This isn't always the case for lymphedema especially for the primary type. 

Stemmer's Sign 

Stemmer's sign is a clinical sign, which helps in indicating the presence of lymphedema. It involves lifting of the skin over the second toe, using the thumb and index fingers. It is positive if the skin cannot be lifted. 

Stemmer's sign is negative in lipedema and positive in lymphedema. 

Pitting Edema

There is no pitting edema in lipedema while it's common in lymphedema especially as the condition progresses 


The site affected by lipedema is painful to touch whereas in lymphedema, the affected area is generally not painful to touch.  

Hormonal Disturbance

Another notable difference between lipedema and lymphedema is the occurrence of hormonal disturbances. This is frequent in lipedema while it doesn't usually happen in cases of lymphedema. 

Lipedema and lymphedema may have differences but both conditions can have better prognosis if diagnosed and 
treated early.  

Image: bosmanerwin via Pixabay 

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