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Lipoedema: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Jun 21, 2022

Lipoedema: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Lipoedema or lipedema, literally meaning “fluid in fats,” is a chronic condition that is caused by the abnormal accumulation of fat beneath the skin, especially in the legs, thighs, upper arms, and buttocks area while generally sparing the hands and feet. It is a condition that makes the affected area painful and tender. Lipoedema is mostly seen in women as compared to men. In women, the condition usually occurs during pregnancy, and menopause.

The condition is often mistaken for obesity.

Lipoedema occurs when there’s an abnormal, localized build-up of fats under the skin, as opposed to obesity which involves generalized bodily fat accumulation. This accumulation of fats increases the production of hyaluronic acid in the skin tissues. This increase in the production of hyaluronic acid turns the fat into gelatin-like texture, making the affected area feel firm and heavy.

The Stages of Lipoedema

Also referred to as ‘Painful Fat Syndrome’, lipoedema is classified into four stages. The texture of the skin and the severity of the condition changes with each stage.

Stage 1 – In this stage, the skin still appears normal but may have a spongy consistency.

Stage 2 – In this stage, there are visible changes in the skin texture. You may be able to see the local accumulation of fat, especially near your knees and ankles.

Stage 3 – In this stage, the affected area obviously appears bulky. You may also experience your legs turning stiff and the texture of the skin becomes harder.

Stage 4 – In this stage, there is a huge accumulation of fats and it now damages the entire lymph system in the affected area/s. You may experience swelling in the affected area.

Symptoms of Lipoedema

The common symptom of lipedema is the enlargement of thighs, buttocks, and lower legs due to excess accumulation of fats. As the condition progresses, the affected area gets heavier. In some cases, the affected area also turns tender. You may also experience pain in the area that has fat deposition.

Other symptoms of Painful Fat Syndrome include the appearance of nodules on the skin, bruising, and swelling.

The affected area may look normal in its initial stages, but over time the skin loses its elasticity. Individuals with the condition may experience bruising easily.

Individuals with the condition may also experience depression and anxiety due to changes in body appearance.

Causes of Lipoedema

  • The exact cause of lipoedema is unknown. However, genes may be to blame. The cases are most common in individuals that have a family history of the condition.
  • Changes in hormones are also the major cause of the condition. Hormonal changes are usually seen in the onset of puberty, during pregnancy, and in menopause.

Risk Factors

Lipoedema is more likely to occur during certain phases of a woman’s life like puberty or during the time around the first menstruation, pregnancy, and later in life maybe around menopause, or due to hormone replacement therapy. Hence, women are at greater risk during these phases owing to the inevitable hormone changes.

Individuals with a family history of Painful Fat Syndrome are more likely to develop the condition.

Being overweight also increases your risk of developing the condition.


Some healthcare professionals may misdiagnose lipoedema as obesity. Hence, it is important to diagnose Painful Fat Syndrome appropriately for proper treatment. It is advised to seek the help of a healthcare professional specialized in the disorder. Your healthcare professional will ask you about the symptoms you experience and do a physical examination. They will also ask you to undergo a few medical tests for precise diagnosis and staging. Some of the medical tests you may need to undergo include lipoedema, MRI, or ultrasound.


There is no specific treatment available for lipoedema, your doctor may recommend preventive measures to manage the symptoms. To prevent the condition from progressing further, your doctor may also recommend dietary changes and lifestyle measures.

There are certain therapies available that are effective to relieve the symptoms as well as reduce the size of the affected area.

In the early stages, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy and tumescent liposuction. Hormone therapy is useful when the accumulation of fat is due to pregnancy, menopause, or puberty. Tumescent liposuction is a procedure wherein the healthcare professional will insert a probe and inject a solution in the affected body parts. The solution is helpful in the “breakdown” of accumulated fats, and the reduction of its visible size. It can also control bleeding during the procedure.

In advanced stages, where there is an excess accumulation of fats, your doctor may recommend compression therapy, massage, and hormonal therapies. Manual lymphatic drainage is a massage technique wherein the affected area is gently massaged using oils. Massage is helpful in the movement of excess fluid in the affected area. In compression therapy, your doctor may recommend wearing a compression garment that helps to reduce swelling and prevent the accumulation of fats.

You must note that medications like diuretics are not helpful to treat Painful Fat Syndrome.

In cases, when therapies and lifestyle measures are not effective, your doctor may recommend surgery to get rid of fatty tissues.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to therapies, lifestyles measures and home remedies are helpful to relieve symptoms and prevent the accumulation of fat.

Some of the lifestyle measures you may consider include:

  • Include exercise in your daily routine. Perform exercises that help to improve the movement of lymphatic fluid. Consult your doctor to know the suitable exercises for you. Some of the exercise recommendations include swimming, walking, jogging, spot jogging, cycling, Pilates, etc.
  • Individuals with the condition usually experience anxiety and depression. It is advised to talk to your relatives, friends, and colleagues about your condition. You may also take the help of support groups. You may also take the help of relaxation techniques, yoga, and meditation for a healthy mind and body.
  • Individuals with Painful Fat Syndrome are more prone to developing skin infections. It is advised to take good care of your skin. Use skincare products that are natural and chemical-free.
  • Home Remedies

    • Dietary changes are helpful to get rid of lipoedema fat. You must avoid consumption of dairy products, salt, refined sugar, spicy or oily food, packaged food, etc. You may increase the intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Making dietary changes does not mean you fall prey to fancy diets. Dieting, or simply cutting down on the amount of food you eat, is generally ineffective to treat lipoedema. With dieting, you may lose fats from body parts that are not affected by the condition. Before making any changes in your diet, make sure you consult your doctor or a nutritionist.
    • Stay hydrated. Increase your fluid intake. Consuming a good amount of fluids helps to move the fat cells and prevent accumulation in one place.

    Learn more about Women’s Health Issues here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Jun 21, 2022

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