Your liver works overtime to keep you healthy: it helps your body process nutrients from food, disposes of toxic substances, promotes a healthy immune system, and so much more. Yet many of us are unaware of the ways we treat our livers with punishing disregard.
While some people with liver conditions have only genetics to blame, liver disease can also be caused by environmental factors, including exposure to certain viruses such as hepatitis, excessive alcohol consumption, and obesity. Over time, these factors can lead to cirrhosis, scarring of the liver that can ultimately culminate in liver failure. According to the World Gastroenterology Organization, roughly 50 million people globally live with chronic liver disease today.
That's exactly why it's so essential to know the subtle signs of liver disease—including one that the Mayo Clinic says you may notice on your hands. Read on to find out the sign of liver disease that could be hiding in plain sight—and when it's time to call your doctor.
If you notice redness on your hands, it could indicate a liver condition.
According to the Mayo Clinic, having redness on the palms of your hands can be the sign of a serious liver condition. This particular symptom is known as secondary palmar erythema, and it often presents as one of the first signs that something is wrong.
The New Zealand Dermatological Society reports that approximately 23 percent of people with cirrhosis of the liver experience palmar erythema, although the condition is also associated with liver ailments including Wilson's disease, a rare genetic disorder which occurs when the body has too much copper, and hemochromatosis, which occurs when the body experiences a buildup of too much iron.
Here's what to look out for.
When a patient has palmar erythema, the palms of both hands become red and blotchy, with a higher concentration of color around the base of the palm or on the skin beneath the fingers. In some cases, the fingers themselves may also change color.
Those with palmar erythema may feel warmth or a slight burning sensation in the palms, but typically there is no pain associated with this symptom.
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The degree of redness in your hands may be linked to the severity of your symptoms.
Experts say that your hands may provide some visual clues about how serious your liver disease is. "The redness of palmar erythema is due to increased dilatation of surface capillaries in the hand," explains DermNet, a website of the New Zealand Dermatological Society. "The degree of redness is often related to the severity of any underlying disease (if present)," the site's experts add.
Some people also report changes to the severity of the redness in their hands due to temperature, emotional state, the application of pressure to their hands, or holding the arms in an upright position. These changes are not linked to the severity of disease.
It can also signal other serious underlying diseases.
Besides signaling a liver condition, palmar erythema may also tip you off to one of several other conditions. For example, roughly 60 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis experience this symptom, along with 18 percent of those with thyroid disease. Palmar erythema also occurs in 30 percent of pregnancies due to vascular and hormonal changes, according to DermNet.
If you notice this particular symptom, contact your doctor to discuss whether a liver screening or other medical consultation is needed.