Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Lipoedema is an abnormal buildup of fat that most commonly happens in the legs and, less commonly, arms. Discover the symptoms and what you can do to help the condition.

What is lipoedema?

Lipoedema is a long-term build-up of fat tissue that collects below your skin, which can cause pain and affect how you walk. Lipoedoema mostly affects women.

What are the symptoms of lipoedema?

The symptoms of lipoedema vary from person to person, but typical signs are:

  • Certain limbs growing disproportionately from the rest of your body. It is usually symmetrical

  • Pain in your limbs

  • Bruising easily

  • Bumpy-feeling skin that can resemble an orange peel

  • Tightness or a heavy feeling in your limbs

  • Cold skin in the affected areas

Obesity can be confused for lipoedema. In obesity, the fat deposit is equally distributed all over the body, compared to the limbs being disproportionately enlarged in lipoedema.

Lipoedema is a lifelong condition that can gradually worsen and lead to complications such as:

  • Being less able to move your limbs

  • Skin rashes and irritation

  • Poor mental health due to living with the condition

What are the stages of lipoedema?

There’s a 3 stage classification of lipoedema that describes the structure of the skin.

  • Stage 1 lipoedema – Smooth skin surface with a build-up of fat underneath

  • Stage 2 lipoedema – Uneven skin surface with fatty nodules that can be felt under the skin

  • Stage 3 lipoedema – Abnormally large fat lobules, skin folds, and very nodular skin and tissue structure.

How long does lipoedema last?

Lipoedema is a chronic condition meaning it lasts a lifetime. The fat build-up often increases as you age.

What causes lipoedema?

Hormonal changes during puberty tend to be the start of lipoedema in most cases. Similar hormone changes happen during pregnancy and menopause which can also start lipoedema. The condition can also run in families. 

Lipoedema is not caused by being overweight. You can still have lipoedema if you are a healthy weight, and if not, losing weight can help to reduce symptoms.

How is lipoedema diagnosed?

A doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine your limbs. There are no special tests used to diagnose lipoedema. 

How to treat lipoedema

There’s currently no cure for lipoedema but there are treatments that can help you manage it, such as:

  • Eating healthily and exercising to maintain a healthy weight

  • Compression leggings or stockings can reduce pain and swelling, making walking easier

  • Using moisturisers to stop the skin getting dry

  • Talking therapy can be very helpful if your symptoms are affecting your mood

  • In severe cases of lipoedema, you may be able to undergo a fat removing surgery called liposuction.

When should I seek help?

If you have symptoms of lipoedema, see a GP who can help advise on what treatments you can use. If you have swelling of your legs that doesn’t improve after a few days it’s also best to see a GP.

Call 111 or speak to a doctor urgently if you have swollen, painful, red and hot legs. This could be a sign of an infection and may need treatment with antibiotics.

How can Livi help? 

A Livi doctor can talk to you about your symptoms and give you advice on the best next steps.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi