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Digestive health centre

Picture of the liver

The liver is a large, vital organ that sits on the right side of the abdomen. It weighs about 1.4 kilos (3 pounds), is reddish-brown in colour and feels rubbery to the touch. Normally you can't feel the liver, because it's protected by the rib cage.

The liver has two large sections, called the right and the left lobes. The gallbladder sits under the liver, along with parts of the pancreas and intestines. The liver and these organs work together to digest, absorb and process food. The liver itself performs a broad range of functions, including detoxification, protein synthesis and production of chemicals used in digestion.

Human Anatomy: Antererior View of the Liver

Front view of the liver

The liver's main job is to filter the blood coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body. The liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolises drugs. As it does this, the liver secretes bile that ends up back in the intestines. The liver also makes proteins important for blood clotting and other functions.

Liver conditions

There are over 100 types of liver conditions. They include:

Hepatitis: Inflammation or swelling of the liver, usually caused by a viral infection like hepatitis A, B or C. Hepatitis can have non-infectious causes too, including heavy drinking, drug use, allergic reactions or obesity.

Cirrhosis: Long-term damage to the liver from any cause can lead to permanent scarring, called cirrhosis. The liver is then unable to function well. It is often caused by years of alcohol misuse.

Non- alcoholic fatty liver disease: A build up of fat in the cells of the liver, usually seen in people who are overweight or obese.

Liver cancer: The most common type of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, almost always occurs after cirrhosis is present.

Liver failure: Liver failure has many causes including infection, genetic diseases and excessive alcohol consumption.

Ascites: As a result of cirrhosis, the liver leaks fluid (ascites) into the abdomen, which becomes distended and heavy.

Gallstones: If a gallstone gets stuck in the bile duct draining the liver, it can trigger hepatitis and bile duct infection, known as cholangitis.

Haemochromatosis: Haemochromatosis is an inherited disorder that allows iron to collect around the liver, damaging it. The iron also builds up throughout the body, causing many other health problems.

Primary sclerosing cholangitis: A rare disease with unknown causes, which results in inflammation and scarring in the bile ducts of the liver.

Primary biliary cirrhosis: In this rare disorder, an unclear process slowly destroys the bile ducts in the liver. Permanent liver scarring, or cirrhosis, eventually develops.

Liver tests

In order to diagnose liver disease, your doctor may arrange a number of tests, including:

Blood tests

Liver function tests: Liver function tests (LFTs) check how well the liver is working and includes assessment of different blood indices.

WebMD Medical Reference

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