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Lipoedema is a chronic condition like lymphoedema, it presents mainly in the legs and arms and they are enlarged and tender and painful. It however is named wrong since a pure lipoedema has no fluid in the tissues outside normal ranges and the lymphatic system is working well. To correct this naming error and thus sending a patient down the wrong treatment and management pathway there is an intent by an international consensus group to have the name changed to “lipalgia”
However as lipoedema progresses there may be some fluid accumulations due to a difficulty of the lymphatic system to work properly so a person may develop a lipo-lymphoedema and damage to the lymphatic system through surgery or radiotherapy may worsen it.
Unfortunately lipoedema is often confused with lymphoedema due to the fact that there is a generally poor knowledge due to a lack of quality research about it and due to a lack of diagnostic criteria for it.
This can also occur due to the lack of good details collected by the clinician about the patient’s Family History, lifetime medical and surgical history and about current medications.
This can mean is that many of those patients who have lipoedema end up being incorrectly diagnosed as lymphoedema and then are sent down the wrong treatment pathway. The reverse also can happen but this is rarer.
It is an issue for clinicians dealing with patients who present post surgery/radiotherapy associated with the treatment for cancer – are they presenting with a lymphoedema due to damage to the lymphatic system or do they have a lipoedema which is more connected to hormonal changes such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause?
Knowing what the reason is for the swelling is is crucial to ensure the right treatment pathway.
For further information contact Prof Neil Piller, firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here to visit the Lymphoedema Education Website.