Lymphedema vs. Lipedema: A Distinction We Need to Make

Lymphedema Treatment Los Angeles, CAExaggerated swelling of the arms or legs is often referred to simply as edema. However, various factors may influence this swelling. Two common medical disorders that may develop are lymphedema and lipedema (or lipoedema). Because treatment is a vital aspect of resolving swollen extremities, it is necessary to distinguish these conditions from one another.

Lymphedema

Lymphedema, in which Dr. Patel specializes, is a disorder that originates in the lymphatic system. In this condition, swelling results from the accumulation of lymph fluid in the arms or legs. This condition:

  • Usually affects only one arm or leg
  • May be congenital but usually develops after cancer treatment in which one or more lymph nodes have been removed
  • May be associated with cellulitis, a severe infection
  • May be triggered or worsened by morbid obesity
  • Must be treated by a lymphedema specialist

Treating Lymphedema

Depending on the severity of lymphedema, treatment may involve decongestive therapy administered by a trained lymphedema therapist. Microsurgical techniques may also be conducted to improve flow within the lymphatic system. Dr. Patel performs various procedures to achieve optimal patient outcomes. To address fluid-based lymphedema, lymphatic venous anastomosis or vascularized lymph node transfer may be performed. Solid-predominant lymphedema may require suction-assisted protein lipectomy to improve lymph flow.

Lipedema

Lipedema is not a lymphatic problem, it is the symmetric, pathologic accumulation of fat cells. Make no mistake, lipedema is not a weight issue, it can be a serious medical condition. Lipedema most commonly affects women and usually develops in the lower extremities. This condition:

  • Develops spontaneously
  • Usually affects both legs or arms equally
  • May be painful
  • May cause skeletal issues over time or may change gait (walking)
  • May be treated by a lymphedema specialist
  • May occur in a normal-weight person
  • May be worsened by obesity
  • May coincide with lymphedema

Treating Lipedema

Similar to lymphedema, lipedema may also be managed with complete decongestive therapy. Liposuction may also be successful in reducing pathologic fatty deposits. When the two conditions overlap, a multi-pronged approach that includes compression, decongestive therapy, and surgery may be needed.

The serious nature of both lymphedema and lipedema requires specific care that revolves around the unique aspects of each case. Dr. Patel has comprehensive treatment systems through which each of these conditions can be managed. For more information, contact our office to schedule a consultation.

Posted in: Lymphedema Surgery

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