Find out why fatty liver disease can lead to a skin rash, what to look for, and other skin issues that can be a result of this condition.
Most of us have experienced a skin rash at one time or another. (1) This is, in part, because skin irritation and rashes can be caused by numerous factors, ranging from allergic reactions to genetics to infection and more. Another potential cause of skin rash is fatty liver disease.
What Is Fatty Liver Disease?
Fatty liver disease is diagnosed when there is a buildup of fat in the liver, an organ that assists with food digestion and removing toxins from the body. There are two main types of fatty liver disease:
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease, also called alcoholic steatohepatitis, which is associated with liver damage due to heavy alcohol use.
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is a buildup of liver fat not associated with alcohol consumption. There are two types of NAFLD. One is simple fatty liver, which involves little, if any, liver damage or inflammation. The other is nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, which does consist of liver damage and inflammation, and can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. (2)
How Fatty Liver Disease Can Lead to a Skin Rash
If fatty liver disease occurs in the liver, why does it sometimes appear in the form of a skin rash? There are a couple of several reasons.
- One potential cause of a skin rash with fatty liver disease is due to a zinc deficiency, these two conditions often occurring together. (3) If the liver is damaged, it may not store zinc effectively. Zinc deficiency can also co-occur with liver disease due to poor nutrition. Either way, if the liver doesn’t have an adequate level of this mineral, it can affect its ability to regenerate. Low zinc levels also lead to cell and tissue damage. This damage can show up on the skin as a rash.
- Other research suggests that liver damage can lead to itchy skin (referred to in the medical world as pruritus) due to the way it affects the bile ducts. If these ducts become blocked or malfunction, waste products can build up in the body, leading to skin irritation and itching. (4)
Fatty Liver Disease Skin Rash: What to Look For
Itchy skin with liver disease can occur anywhere on the body. However, the itchiness is often more intense on the feet and palms of the hands. (4)
Other skin issues to look for as they can be signs of liver disease include: (6)
Spider-like blood vessels
Yellow skin and/or eyes
Additional Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease
Because skin rashes can be so common, it can also be helpful to know other common symptoms of fatty liver disease. This can be a little tricky because fatty liver often has no or few symptoms, especially in the early stages, which is why it’s often called a “silent disease.”
That said, some symptoms associated with this category of diseases include: (7)
- Abdominal pain
- Extreme fatigue
- Fullness in the upper right side of the belly
- Loss of appetite
- Mental confusion
- Swollen legs or abdomen
- Weight loss
When to Seek Professional Help for Skin Rash
If you have a skin rash and don’t know its cause, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can help determine its cause, also potentially running tests to determine if fatty liver disease may be a concern.
If fatty liver is diagnosed, certain lifestyle changes may be recommended, such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol, and exercising regularly. Medications may also be prescribed to manage other factors associated with this disease, like high blood sugar or cholesterol levels. (7)
While going to the doctor isn’t always pleasurable, seeking help early can help slow or stop fatty liver disease progression. Plus, if there is another reason for your skin rash, you can treat it quickly while also helping to relieve your concerns over your liver health, putting your mind at ease.
(1) Cleveland Clinic. (2020, April 23). Skin Rash. Retrieved October 14, 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17413-rashes-red-skin
(2) National Library of Medicine. (2017, April 26). Fatty Liver Disease. Retrieved October 14, 2023, from https://medlineplus.gov/fattyliverdisease.html
(3) Grüngreiff, K., Reinhold, D., Wedemeyer, H. (2016, January-February). The Role of Zinc in Liver Cirrhosis. Annals of Hepatology. doi:10.5604/16652681.1184191
(4) Liu, Y., Zhao, Y., Gao, X., et al. (2022, October 29). Recognizing Skin Conditions in Patients with Cirrhosis: A Narrative Review. Annals of Medicine. doi:10.1080/07853890.2022.2138961
(5) Hoon Lee, T. (2022, September). Cirrhosis of the Liver. Retrieved October 14, 2023, from https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/liver-and-gallbladder-disorders/fibrosis-and-cirrhosis-of-the-liver/cirrhosis-of-the-liver
(6) Cedars-Sinai. (n.d.). Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH). Retrieved October 14, 2023, from https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/n/non-alcoholic-steatohepatitis-nash.html
(7) Cleveland Clinic. (2020, July 31). Fatty Liver Disease. Retrieved October 14, 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15831-fatty-liver-disease