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  • Lipedema vs. Cellulite: What Are the Differences?

Lipedema vs. Cellulite: What Are the Differences?

lipedema versus cellulite
lipedema versus cellulite

Our skin is the largest and one of the most important organs in our body. With that said, there are several medical conditions that can affect our skin and change its appearance. Two common skin conditions are lipedema and cellulite, which can make the skin look bumpy, uneven, and swollen. While these two conditions may appear similar on the surface, they’re completely different from one another. For example, lipedema can cause symptoms like pain and decreased mobility, while cellulite is purely cosmetic and poses no health concerns.

In this article, we’ll provide an in-depth look at lipedema vs. cellulite, so you can better understand the key differences, along with causes, symptoms, treatment, and more.

What Is Lipedema?
What Is Cellulite?
What Is the Difference Between Lipedema and Cellulite?
What Causes Lipedema?
What Causes Cellulite?
What Are Symptoms of Lipedema?
What Are Symptoms of Cellulite?
How Do You Treat Lipedema?
How Do You Treat Cellulite?
The Bottom Line: Lipedema vs. Cellulite

 

What Is Lipedema?

Lipedema is a loose connective tissue disorder where deposits of fat accumulate in the lower body, most often involving the buttocks, thighs, and calves. The upper arms can be affected. Lipedema does not affect the hands and feet. In most cases, patients living with this condition experience pain and edema, which is known as swelling.

Lipedema can be a debilitating condition, resulting in swelling and skin that’s more susceptible to bruising. If left untreated, lipedema can continue to progress, resulting in pain and sensitivity to the touch. Because lipedema is categorized as a medical condition, it will require ongoing treatment and management to prevent its progression.

 

What Is Cellulite?

Cellulite is a common skin condition that affects roughly 80 to 90 percent of postpubertal women and fewer men.1 Cellulite occurs when fat deposits collect in pockets beneath the skin, creating dimpled skin that resembles an orange peel or cottage cheese.
cellulite affects roughly 80 - 90 percent of postpubertal women
In most cases, cellulite forms around the pelvic region, typically the buttocks, hips, and thighs, and causes fat to create a lumpy appearance due to collagen fibers stretching, breaking down, or pulling tight. A key difference between cellulite and lipedema is that cellulite is purely cosmetic and doesn’t pose any health risks.

 

What Is the Difference Between Lipedema and Cellulite?

Lipedema and cellulite appear to be very similar to one another, as both can cause your skin to dimple and become uneven, sometimes referred to as a mattress appearance. However, the key difference between cellulite and lipedema is that cellulite is a cosmetic condition that doesn’t lead to any health conditions, while lipedema is a medical condition that can progress, resulting in pain, decreased mobility, and other symptoms.
lipedema versus cellulite

 

What Causes Lipedema?

Medical professionals have not been able to determine what causes lipedema. However, some evidence suggests that lipedema occurs after puberty, periods of hormonal change, and pregnancy,2 which suggests changes in hormones can be one of the leading causes, but more research is needed to support this claim.

Because lipedema is often misdiagnosed, knowing the potential causes can help you get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. If you’re experiencing pain, swelling, or weight gain during any periods of hormonal change, bring them up to your doctor. The primary goal of treating lipedema is to prevent it from progressing to later stages and reduce the cosmetic and physical effects so you can live a healthy life.

 

What Causes Cellulite?

Cellulite is extremely common and can affect anyone of any size and body type. Additionally, cellulite can look drastically different from person to person. For example, someone with cellulite may exhibit very faint bumps and dimples that are barely noticeable, while another person may have deep and bulging fat deposits. There are a few potential causes of cellulite, including:
potential causes of cellulite

  • Diet
  • Genetics
  • Pregnancy
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Hormones
  • Weight gain

Cellulite does not cause any adverse health conditions, and most doctors find cellulite to be a natural condition for most women and some men.

 

What Are Symptoms of Lipedema?

Lipedema is a medical condition that can lead to severe symptoms if left untreated. This is why seeking treatment to find ways to manage your lipedema is important. Knowing the symptoms of lipedema can help you get a proper diagnosis earlier, so you can prevent the condition from progressing. Symptoms of lipedema include:

  • Abnormal fat deposits in both legs, causing the lower body to look disproportionate compared to the upper body
  • Skin that’s more susceptible to bruising
  • Pain in the affected area
  • Loose skin
  • Uneven skin
  • Swelling
  • Skin with a spongy feel
  • Loss of mobility and/or range of motion

It’s important to note that lipedema often spares the feet and hands, and is also unaffected by a person’s caloric intake or diet. Additionally, the swelling may differ in each limb, making one leg appear larger than the other.

 

What Are Symptoms of Cellulite?

The symptoms of cellulite are fairly similar to lipedema. However, cellulite doesn’t cause any pain or excessive swelling. Some common symptoms of cellulite include:

  • Dimpled skin
  • Uneven skin
  • Bumpy skin
  • Orange peel or cottage cheese texture

While cellulite is most common on the thighs and buttocks, it can be found in other regions of the body, including the abdomen, breasts, and arms.

 

How Do You Treat Lipedema?

The primary focus of lipedema treatment is preventing its progression into later stages. Once a patient is diagnosed with lipedema, it becomes a lifelong condition. However, with the right treatment, living a happy and healthy life is possible. After diagnosis, your doctor might recommend the following:

  • Lifestyle changes, such as more physical activity and eating a more nutritious diet
  • Emotional support to support mental health
  • Complete decongestive therapy, which involves techniques such as compression therapy, lymph drainage, and mobilization to help manage pain and reduce the enlarging of your legs
  • Liposuction and excision to remove built-up fat deposits

At Tactile Medical, our Flexitouch Plus system is designed to treat and manage symptoms of lipedema at home. The Flexitouch Plus system is an advanced pneumatic compression device that delivers mild, dynamic pressure in 1-3 second intervals. This gentle work and release action helps stimulate your lymphatic system to increase the flow of fluids to reduce swelling and other symptoms associated with lipedema. The Flexitouch Plus system also comes with a trunk component to treat the hips and abdomen, along with an upper body and head and neck system. Talk to your doctor or lipedema specialist today to see if the Flexitouch Plus system is right for you.

 

How Do You Treat Cellulite?

Cellulite is a cosmetic condition that doesn’t require treatment. However, people with cellulite may be concerned with the appearance of their skin and seek treatment. Similar to lipedema, there’s no cure for cellulite, but there are ways you can minimize its appearance. Below are several ways you can treat cellulite:

  • Topical creams: For some people, topical skin-tightening creams can be used on the affected area to reduce the appearance of cellulite. However, topical creams simply reduce the appearance of cellulite by tightening the skin temporarily but don’t cure cellulite. They also need to be applied daily.
  • Laser treatment: In some cases, your dermatologist or doctor may use laser treatment to destroy the fibrous bands that bind fat. However, this treatment isn’t permanent, and more research is needed.
  • Cryolipolysis: Also known as CoolSculpting, cryolipolysis freezes the fat cells located beneath your skin and requires multiple rounds of treatment.
  • Lifestyle changes: Making lifestyle changes, such as regularly exercising and eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet, can help minimize the appearance of cellulite for some people.

Treating cellulite doesn’t mean you have to lose weight. Everyone has fat beneath their skin, and cellulite forms by the way fat is deposited and collagen ties it down. This means both larger-bodied and smaller-bodied people can develop cellulite.

 

The Bottom Line: Lipedema vs. Cellulite

additional diagram of cellulitis versus lipedema
Lipedema and cellulite are both distinct skin conditions that can pose similar skin alterations, such as dimples and unevenness. However, there is a stark difference between cellulite and lipedema. Lipedema is a medical condition that can result in pain, bruising, and swelling. On the other hand, cellulite is purely cosmetic and doesn’t result in pain or require treatment.

Lipedema requires broader treatment options to manage symptoms and prevent progression, such as lifestyle changes, complete decongestive therapy, and possibly liposuction, while cellulite can be treated through topical creams and different types of laser treatments. However, if you notice any symptoms of lipedema or cellulite, visit your doctor to ensure you get a proper diagnosis and discuss your treatment options.

If you’re living with lipedema, talk to your doctor today about Tactile Medical’s Flexitouch Plus system. With the Flexitouch Plus system, you can manage your symptoms of lipedema from the comfort of your home.

References
1. Sadick N. Treatment for cellulite. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2018;5(1):68-72. Accessed March 31, 2022. Published 2018 Oct 22. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2018.09.002
2. Lipedema Foundation. What Is Lipedema? Accessed March 31, 2022. https://www.lipedema.org/

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