If You Notice This Around Your Eyes, Get Your Liver Checked
If these show up on your skin, the problem may be more than skin deep.
Having a healthy liver is an integral part of maintaining your overall wellbeing. Yet sadly, 5.5 million Americans are currently living with chronic liver disease or cirrhosis, says the American Liver Foundation—a number that includes many people who don't realize they have a problem. According to the Mayo Clinic, "liver disease doesn't always cause noticeable signs and symptoms," allowing it to fly under the radar of patients and doctors alike. That's why it's so important to know the symptoms of a liver problem in case they do appear.
In addition to more traditional liver symptoms such as jaundice, abdominal pain, swelling in the legs, itchy skin, and more, the Cleveland Clinic says there's one symptom you should look out for around your eyes. Their experts warn that if you notice this particular symptom, there's a good chance your liver is to blame. Read on to find out which sign may appear near your eyes, and what to do if you notice it.
If you notice spots of plaque around your eyes, get your liver checked.
If you notice deposits of yellow plaque under the skin near your eyes, experts say you may be demonstrating a sign of liver disease. The condition is known as xanthelasma: deposits of cholesterol beneath the skin that are believed to be the result of high cholesterol and disordered lipid metabolism.
Several forms of liver disease can lead to disordered lipid metabolism, but a 2009 report from the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine (CCJM) specifically points to cholestatic liver disease as the most common culprit in cases of xanthelasma. "Studies suggest that the total plasma cholesterol level is elevated in as many as 50 percent of patients with compromised liver function," says the CCJM report. "Up to half of those with xanthelasma have high cholesterol," adds the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
It may signal other dangerous conditions, too.
Though xanthelasma is most commonly associated with liver disorders, the American Academy of Ophthalmology also notes that other organs may also be compromised when these lesions are present. "Xanthelasma may signal that cholesterol is building up in your blood vessels. This blocks blood flow and can lead to a stroke or a heart attack," says the AAO website.
In fact, a 2011 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that men between the ages of 70 and 79 who developed xanthelasma had a 12 percent higher risk of heart disease than men who did not, independent of other risk factors such as obesity and high cholesterol. For this reason, you should speak with your doctor not only about your liver health, but about the full range of possible significance behind these lesions.
Here's how to recognize the symptom.
The lesions are usually flat or slightly raised, and off-white or yellow in color. They most frequently appear directly underneath the eyes, or above them on the eyelid—usually originating in the inner corners of the eye area. The bumps tend to be painless and soft, with well-defined edges, and they sometimes grow into a tube shape, rather than appearing as individual spots. The CCJM report notes that these marks "may enlarge over the course of weeks."
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Treatments are available for xanthelasma.
If your doctor confirms that you do in fact have xanthelasma, there are two main ways you can fight back against the symptom. First, you'll need to treat the underlying hyperlipidemia—meaning the build-up of cholesterol in your blood—with the help of cholesterol-lowering medication.
Next, you can work with a dermatologist to minimize the appearance of the lesions themselves, says the AAO. "Xanthelasma do not go away on their own. They tend to stay the same size or grow larger," the health organization explains. Their experts note that some possible cosmetic treatment options may include laser surgery, cryotherapy, "traditional surgery to remove and repair the skin," electric needle surgery, or chemical peels. However, they note that xanthelasma can return after surgery if the underlying cause remains.
Speak with your doctor now if you notice this strange skin symptom.