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What is Lipoedema and how is it treated?

Lipoedema is often misdiagnosed as Lymphoedema or obesity. Credit: Credit: The Karri Clinic

What is Lipoedema?

Lipoedema causes an abnormal build-up of fat cells on legs and arms that can't be broken down by diet or exercise. It's often misdiagnosed as Lymphoedema or obesity.

The exact cause of lipoedema is not clear. It's not caused by being overweight – you can be a healthy weight and still get it. Sometimes lipoedema runs in families.

The four stages of lipoedema.

It may be caused by changes in your hormones:

  • during puberty

  • when pregnant

  • when going through the menopause

  • when taking the contraceptive pill

What are the symptoms? 

Lipoedema is more common in women. It usually affects both sides of the body equally.

Lipoedema is more common in women. Credit: Credit: The Karri Clinic

Possible symptoms may include:

  • Heavy legs, a narrow waist and a much smaller upper body.

  • Large bottom, thighs and lower legs, but feet will usually be unaffected.

  • It can affect the arms too, but the hands are not usually affected.

  • The affected skin feels soft and cool and may be dimpled.

  • Pain, tenderness or heaviness in the affected limbs, may bruise easily.

  • Lipoedema can also cause joint problems, which can make walking difficult.

  • It can be a difficult condition to live with, with some patients feeling anxious or depressed.

What are the treatments?

There is currently no cure for Lipoedema but there are things that can help and stop it getting worse. Treatment will depend on how severe the symptoms are.

Lipoedema before and after surgery

The main treatments are:

  • eating healthily, doing more exercise and trying to maintain a healthy weight.

  • wearing compression stockings or bandages to reduce pain and discomfort.

  • looking after the skin by regularly using moisturising cream to stop it drying out.

  • counselling/cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

  • a procedure to get rid of the fat 

If symptoms are particularly severe an operation may be needed but it may not be available on the NHS.

Find out more about symptoms of Lipoedema.

Where can you get support?

Getting support and talking to someone can help if lipoedema is affecting quality of life.

Lipoedema UK and Talk Lipoedema can give help and advice.

They can also help to get in touch with other people with lipoedema.