What is lipoedema?

Lipoedema is a long term and complex but non-progressive condition that affects women and leads to an increase in adipose tissue (fat) and pain in the legs, buttocks and hips and, sometimes, the arms. The incidence is unknown

The increase in adipose tissue around the legs is usually triggered by weight gain at times associated with hormonal changes, such as puberty, pregnancy and menopause.

What are the symptoms of lipoedema?

Women often have symptoms of unusually large fatty legs for a number of years before symptoms of pain or the feeling of severe heavy legs may occur, at which point the condition may lead them to ask their health care professional and it may be suggested they have lipoedema.

It is thought that the pain experienced by people with lipoedema is related to inflammation and reduced oxygen to the issues.

Unfortunately there is no test you can undergo to diagnose lipoedema therefore not a lot of research exists about it.

There is no evidence of swelling in lipoedema but it is possible to have lipoedema and also suffer from lymphoedema/chronic oedema which may be related to obesity or other conditions such as vein disease.

It is not thought that lipoedema leads to weight gain but gaining weight does make the symptoms of  lipoedema (pain and heaviness) worse.

Treatment – what can people with lipoedema do?

Reduce / maintain healthy diet and body weight

Many women with lipoedema are also over weight. To reduce the symptoms of lipoedema  maintaining a healthy weight (not diet) is essential. If the individual is very overweight, bariatric surgery  should be considered.

Focus on increasing activity/movement

It has recently been shown that regular activity and exercise can reduce inflammation and it increases blood flow and oxygen in the adipose tissues (fat). Exercise can help reduce the symptoms of pain and heaviness in the legs as well as being good for mental well-being. Many women with lipoedema report alleviation of symptoms with swimming or water aerobics.

Compression therapy

Compression therapy has an anti-inflammatory effect on the tissues and can improve microcirculation so wearing compression hosiery can increase comfort in the legs. However compression will not reduce the amount of fatty tissue or prevent an increase in fat if weight is gained. Flat knit compression hosiery may be more comfortable but requires referral to a specialist for measurement, prescription and fitting of a custom- fit garment that accommodates non-standard leg shape.


There is not enough evidence to support recommending liposuction for lipoedema, it is not widely available on the NHS and any effects may only be temporary.

Further resources

BLS – the new lipoedema supplement (pdf download)

Dowload a patient information leaflet as a pdf to print

Other support

Lipoedema UK Their focus is to educate doctors, health professionals and the public about Lipoedema and its symptoms, so it may be diagnosed and treated earlier. They believe that with earlier diagnosis and treatment women can prevent developing further complications and manage their Lipoedema.

Contact details
Find out more on the Lipoedema UK website

The British Lymphology Society (BLS) is a dynamic and innovative body providing a strong professional voice and support for those involved in the care and treatment of people with lymphoedema and related lymphatic disorders, including lipoedema.

Contact details
01452 790178
Find out more on the British Lymphology Society website

Accelerate We have a clear vision at Accelerate – Our vision is to boldly transform chronic wound and lymphoedema care. And we do this by developing and increasing access to world-class treatments and thinking in chronic wound and lymphoedema care. We're based in East London but can accept national referrals from your GP / specialist to our world-class centre where we pioneer and trial experimental new treatments for chronic wounds, lymphoedema and mobility challenges.

Contact details
020 3819 6022
Find out more on the Accelerate website

NHS Choices the official NHS website, which provides vital information and support about leg and foot signs and other symptoms.

Contact details
Call 111 - for non-emergency medical advice
Find out more on the NHS Choices website

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