World Liver Day: 7 signs of fatty liver on skin

Fatty liver disease primarily affecting the liver, but its symptoms can be seen on the skin too. Here are some signs of fatty liver on skin.

Liver plays a key role in our body’s metabolism, digestion, detoxification as well as nutrient storage. It helps process nutrients from what we eat, produces bile to help in digestion, filters toxins from the blood, regulates blood sugar levels, and stores vitamins and minerals. But when there is an increased build-up of fat in the liver, it leads to fatty liver disease. Though it is associated with too much of alcohol consumption, obesity and type 2 diabetes are also considered to be major risk factors. There are many symptoms of fatty liver disease, and some of these can even show up on your face! Get to know the skin problems caused by fatty liver disease.

What is fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver disease, also known as hepatic steatosis, occurs when there is a collection of fat in the liver cells. The disease can occur when there is more than five percent fat in the liver, according to a research published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology journal in 2017.

This condition can be categorised into alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

AFLD is caused by excessive alcohol consumption, while NAFLD is associated with factors such as obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome, shares gastroenterology, hepatology and liver transplantation expert Dr Sukrit Singh Sethi.

A woman emphasising on liver health
Alcohol is not the only cause of fatty liver disease. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the causes of fatty liver disease?

The causes of fatty liver disease can vary depending on the type:

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1. Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD)

It is primarily caused by too much of alcohol consumption for a long period of time. Alcohol is metabolised by the liver, and chronic alcohol abuse can lead to the accumulation of fat in liver cells.

2. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

It is linked to several factors, including obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, metabolic syndrome, rapid weight loss, certain medications, and genetic factors, says the expert. Poor dietary habits, such as consuming excessive amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates, can also contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Fatty liver symptoms on face and skin

Fatty liver disease can manifest symptoms on the skin:

1. Rosacea

A link between rosacea and fatty liver disease was found during a 2017 research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Rosacea is a common skin condition that causes redness and is usually accompanied by small, red bumps with pus on the face. It can be mistaken for acne due to the similar symptoms.

2. Yellowing of the skin and eyes

Skin and eyes turn yellowish due to jaundice, which occurs when there is an excess build-up of bilirubin in the bloodstream, leading to a yellowish tint in the skin and the whites of the eyes. In fatty liver disease, impaired liver function can hinder the breakdown of bilirubin, contributing to jaundice, says the expert.

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3. Itchy skin

Pruritus or itching skin can result from bile duct blockage or irritation. In fatty liver disease, inflammation and damage to the liver cells can disrupt bile flow, leading to a build-up of bile acids in the bloodstream, which may cause itching.

4. Palmar erythema

This refers to the reddening of the palms, which can be caused by increased blood flow to the skin’s surface. In liver diseases like fatty liver disease, altered circulation and hormonal changes may contribute to palmar erythema.

5. Xanthelasma

These are yellowish patches or bumps that can develop on the skin, particularly around the eyelids. While more commonly associated with conditions like high cholesterol or other lipid disorders, xanthelasma can also occur in people with liver dysfunction, including fatty liver disease, says Dr Sethi.

A woman with skin problem due to fatty liver disease
Bumps can develop around eyelids if you have fatty liver disease. Image courtesy: Freepik

6. Dry skin

Dehydration and impaired liver function can both contribute to dry skin. In fatty liver disease, the liver’s reduced ability to produce certain proteins and lipids essential for skin health may lead to dryness and flakiness.

7. Skin tags

Small, benign growths on the skin, often found around the neck or underarms, may also be associated with fatty liver disease. While the exact mechanism is not clear, insulin resistance, which is common in people with fatty liver disease, may play a role in the development of skin tags, says the expert.

These skin symptoms may not always be present, and their severity can vary widely among individuals. If you notice any concerning changes in your skin, especially when accompanied by other symptoms like abdominal pain, fatigue, or unexplained weight loss, make sure to consult a doctor.

How to treat fatty liver disease?

Your food and fatty liver disease are connected. So, diet and lifestyle modifications are important when it comes to the treatment for fatty liver disease.

  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can help reduce liver fat and improve liver function.
  • Adopting a balanced diet low in saturated fats, sugars, and refined carbohydrates while eating fruits, vegetables, lean proteins along with whole grains can support liver health.
  • Engaging in regular physical activity can help improve insulin sensitivity, reduce liver fat, and promote overall health.
  • Limiting or abstaining from alcohol consumption is essential for people with alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • Controlling conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome can help prevent further liver damage.

In severe cases or when lifestyle modifications are insufficient, medications or procedures like lap sleeve gastrectomy or Intragastric balloon placement may be recommended to manage fatty liver disease, says Dr Sethi.

Clinical signs and symptoms are usually late, so make sure to go for regular medical check-ups to help in identifying liver-related problems.

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