Lipedema (also known as painful fat syndrome) is a chronic disease that mostly affects women. Although this fat disorder usually affects areas from the waist down, lipedema in the upper arms can also happen.

What sets lipedema apart from weight gain is the disproportionate fat distribution. A person may have a normal size upper body and a greatly larger lower body. In the case of lipedema in the upper arms, the affected person may complain of extreme pain, swelling, and bruising on the affected arms.

Why Lipedema Happens

The exact cause of lipedema is unknown but experts believe that it has something to do with the female hormones (hence it’s more common in women). The symptoms of lipedema may begin or worsen during puberty, during pregnancy, following a gynecologic procedure, or by the time around menopause.

Genes may also play a role in the development of lipedema. Women with a family history of the disorder are more likely to have it too compared to those without a family history of it.

Treatment of Lipedema in the Upper Arms

Early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the debilitation of someone with lipedema in the upper arms. The following are some of the ways to manage it:

Nutrition and Exercise

During the early stage of the disease, it is important for the patient to make the necessary changes on her lifestyle especially on diet and physical activity. This is to reduce the non-lipedemic fat and reduce the inflammation. Having the right diet and exercise can also prevent lipedema in the upper arms from worsening.

Compression Garments

There are certain products like compression garments that help reduce the swelling and improve the lymphatic flow. Wearing these compression garments on regular basis can help in reducing lipedema in the upper arms.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage

Manual lymphatic drainage is a form of gentle massage that aims to improve the flow of the lymphatic fluid. First used by Danish doctors Dr. Emil and Estrid Vodder, this technique has been shown to be effective in treating lymphedema and works well for reducing the swelling.


Liposuction is another way to manage lipedema in the upper arms. Water jet assisted liposuction is one form of liposuction that can be used for lipedema. It uses a slightly pressurized stream of saline solution to dislodge the fat and simultaneously remove the cells.

Lipedema in the upper arms may not seem to be a life-threatening condition but when left unmanaged, it can lead to serious complications like lymphedema.

Image: Kendra Goering

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