BACKGROUND: Distinguishing lymphoedema from lipoedema in women with swollen legs can be difficult. Local tissue water content can be quantified using tissue dielectric constant (TDC) measurements. OBJECTIVES: To examine whether TDC measurements can differentiate untreated lower extremity lymphoedema from lipoedema, and to test interobserver agreement. METHODS: Thirty-nine women participated in the study; 10 patients with lipoedema (LipP), nine patients with untreated lymphoedema (U-LP), 10 patients with lymphoedema treated with compression bandaging for ≥ 4 weeks (T-LP) and 10 healthy controls. All subjects were measured at three predefined sites (foot, ankle and lower leg). All groups except U-LP were measured by three blinded investigators. Using a handheld device, a 300-MHz electromagnetic wave is transmitted into the skin via a 2.5-mm depth probe. TDC calculated from the reflected wave is directly proportional to tissue water content ranging from 1 (vacuum) to 78.5 (pure water). RESULTS: Mean ± SD TDC values for U-LP were 48.8 ± 5.2. TDC values of T-LP, LipP and controls were 34.0 ± 6.6, 29.5 ± 6.2 and 32.3 ± 5.7, respectively. U-LP had significantly higher TDC values in all measurement sites compared with all other groups (P < 0.001). A cut-off value of 40 for ankle and lower-leg measurements correctly differentiated all U-LP from LipP and controls. Intraclass correlation coefficients were 0.94 for the ankle and the lower leg and 0.63 for the foot. CONCLUSIONS: TDC values of U-LP were significantly higher than those of T-LP, LipP and controls and may aid in differentiating lymphoedema from lipoedema. Interobserver agreement was high in ankle and lower-leg measurements but low in foot measurements.
British Journal of Dermatology, 2014, Vol 170, Issue 1, p. 96-102