6 July 2022

What’s the difference between Oedema, Lymphoedema and Lipoedema?


I had a new client ask me that last week and I thought, gee, it’s a great question that doesn’t get explained enough. So here it is, in layman’s terms.

Confused about difference between oedema, lymphoedema and lipoedema?
Confused about the difference between oedema, lymphoedema and lipoedema?


What is oedema?

Oedema is a temporary swelling, something that occurs after an injury of any kind – a sprained ankle, broken leg, surgery, a fall, whatever trauma your body sustains.

It is your lymphatic system sending fluid to protect the damaged area from further damage, as well as sending macrophages to clean up the debris. Remember, your lymphatic system takes away the metabolic waste from your body.

Your body is designed to have swelling post trauma then that swelling resolves and you go back to your normal self.

But it doesn’t always work that way.

If the swelling continues past six weeks it is considered chronic oedema. This can then lead to lymphoedema (which in essence is a very chronic oedema).

If your body doesn’t return to normal after six weeks then it is definitely time to do something about it as the swelling has become chronic and you don’t want it to settle in and become lymphoedema … a lifelong swelling in a particular area (any part of the body can be affected by lymphoedema).

What is Lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema can be secondary, which is easy to diagnose as there is usually some sort of trauma to the body, or primary, which is much harder to recognise.

Primary lymphoedema usually affects one leg. Your GP may check you for heart and kidney conditions and then not know what else to investigate. If you are lucky you may be sent to a vascular doctor who will run tests to rule out any vein issues and they may be the one who diagnoses your primary lymphoedema.

What is Lipoedema?

Lipoedema is a whole other condition which bilaterally affects the legs and possibly arms and abdomen. Essentially it is an adipose and connective tissue disorder. You can also have obesity and lymphoedema associated with lipoedema. I’ve written heaps about Lipoedema in my blog and on my socials if you would like more information.

Lipoedema is sometimes confused by GPs with either lymphoedema or lipidemia (which is a high-cholesterol condition and nothing to do with Lipoedema).

All very confusing isn’t it? Do you have any questions? 

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