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Lipoedema is an abnormal build-up of fat in your legs and sometimes arms. It can be painful and affect daily life, but there are things you can do that may help.

Check if you have lipoedema

Lipoedema is more common in women. It usually affects both sides of the body equally.

Lipoedema can make your bottom, thighs, lower legs and sometimes your arms look out of proportion with the rest of the body.

A person with white skin, with early stage lipoedema with bigger legs and a narrow waist.
In early-stage lipoedema, you may have bigger legs, a narrow waist and a much smaller upper body.
A person with white skin with enlarged lower legs caused by lipoedema. Their feet are not affected.
You may have a large bottom, thighs, and lower legs, but your feet are not usually affected.
Side view of a person with white skin with an enlarged upper arm caused by lipoedema.
Sometimes lipoedema can affect the arms too, but the hands are not usually affected.
A person with white skin and enlarged thighs with dimpled skin caused by lipoedema.
The affected skin feels soft and cool and may be dimpled with an "orange peel" texture.

You may also have pain, tenderness or heaviness in the affected limbs, and you may bruise easily.

Lipoedema affects people differently.

Some people have mild symptoms that do not affect their life. Others can struggle with physical problems, blaming themselves for the changes in their body, and have mental health problems.

Other causes of large or swollen legs

There are other things that can cause large or swollen legs.

If you have swelling in all or part of a limb or another part of the body, it could be lymphoedema.

This can affect any part of the body, but usually develops in the arms or legs and develops when the lymphatic system does not work properly.

Sometimes, a build-up of fluid can cause the legs, ankles or feet to become swollen. This is called oedema. In lipoedema, the feet are not usually affected.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you have symptoms of lipoedema
  • you have swollen legs, ankles or feet and the swelling has not improved after a few days

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • your leg or legs become swollen, red, hot and painful and you have flu-like symptoms

You may have cellulitis (a skin infection) and need treatment with antibiotics.

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Treatments for lipoedema

If the GP thinks you have lipoedema they may refer you to a specialist for treatment.

There's currently no cure, but there are things that can help and stop it getting worse.

Your treatment will depend on how severe your symptoms are and how they're affecting you.

The main treatments are:

  • eating healthily, doing more exercise and trying to maintain a healthy weight
  • wearing compression stockings or bandages to reduce pain and discomfort, and make it easier for you to walk
  • looking after your skin – for example, by regularly using moisturising cream (emollients) to stop your skin drying out
  • counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) if you're finding it difficult to cope with your symptoms and you feel depressed
  • a procedure to get rid of the fat (liposuction) if your symptoms are particularly severe – you may need more than 1 operation and it may not be available on the NHS

Compression therapy

Compression therapy can sometimes help manage lipoedema.

A specially trained clinician will assess you and recommend the most suitable type of compression.

Find out more about compression therapy for lipoedema on the LymphConnect website

Getting support

Talking to someone and getting support can help if lipoedema is affecting your quality of life.

Lipoedema UK and Talk Lipoedema give help and advice about managing lipoedema. They can also put you in touch with other people with it.

Causes of lipoedema

The exact cause of lipoedema is not clear.

It's not caused by being overweight – you can be a healthy weight and still get it.

It may be caused by changes in your hormones:

  • during puberty
  • when you're pregnant
  • when you're going through the menopause
  • when you're taking the contraceptive pill

Sometimes lipoedema runs in families.

Page last reviewed: 25 July 2023
Next review due: 25 July 2026