If You Notice This on Your Skin, Get Your Liver Checked, Says Mayo Clinic
Call the doctor now if you have more than one of these skin lesions.
Right now in the U.S., roughly 30 million people have some form of liver disease. And over time, any conditions that damage the liver can lead to cirrhosis, scarring of the liver due to excessive alcohol consumption or chronic hepatitis infection. Eventually, this scar tissue renders the liver nonfunctional, the Cleveland Clinic explains on its site. Unfortunately, your liver could be suffering long before you realize a problem exists. That's exactly why it's so essential to be able to recognize the telltale signs of liver disease if they should arise—including some of the lesser known symptoms. Read on to learn one symptom you may notice on your skin, which can indicate chronic liver disease with 95 percent accuracy.
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According to the Mayo Clinic, there's one symptom that anyone concerned for their liver should be aware of: spider-like blood vessels on the skin. This type of vascular lesion is known among medical professionals as spider angioma, spider naevus, or spider telangiectasia.
What makes these skin lesions so useful in diagnosis is how regularly aligned they are with liver conditions. While a single lesion can indicate a much wider range of health problems—or can be completely benign—a 2021 study published in the journal StatPearls found that "multiple spider angiomas are characteristic of chronic liver disease with a specificity of 95 percent."
These lesions are called spider angiomas for a reason: they look quite a lot like spiders on the skin. Each one typically contains a red spot at the center and a network of red lines which radiate outward like a spider's web or legs. Surrounding this, you're likely to see some additional redness, which is the result of dilated capillaries beneath the skin's surface.
"Spider angiomas are characteristically found on the face, neck, upper chest, and arms in adults," explains the study. The lesions are typically painless, and shouldn't bleed or bruise, the researchers say.
While cirrhosis is the most common underlying cause of spider angioma, there are several other reasons that you may develop this particular type of lesion. For example, up to 60 percent of pregnant women and 50 percent of children will experience this symptom at some point, according to SkinSight—though within these demographics, angiomas tend to be harmless. "Solitary spider nevus in otherwise healthy individuals or pregnant women does not warrant further workup," the 2021 study states.
However, there are other underlying reasons for spider angiomas—and several can be serious. Alcoholic hepatitis, hepatopulmonary syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, skin cancer, and certain thyroid disorders have all been linked to the skin condition.
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Unfortunately, when spider angioma is caused by cirrhosis, it is associated with worse outcomes. "Spider nevi correspond with a higher risk of mortality among patients with alcoholic liver disease," the researchers say. "The prognosis for patients with spider nevi is generally excellent unless they have underlying end-stage liver disease."
If you notice spider angiomas on your skin—particularly if you develop more than one—be sure to speak with your doctor for more information.
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