The Liver: Importance, Function, and Common Diseases

The liver is a part of the human digestive system. It converts food into glycogen, a readily accessible form of energy. It also produces bile, which digests fats and helps remove waste products from your body. The liver is responsible for detoxification in the form of drug and waste removal. It stores iron, vitamins and minerals. The liver removes bacteria, manufactures the protein albumin, fibrinogen and other substances. It processes hemoglobin and regulates chemical levels in the blood. In fact, the liver processes so much blood that it contains up to one pint of blood at any given moment. Almost all blood leaving your gastrointestinal system is processed in your liver before traveling to other parts of your body.

Location of the Liver in the Body

The liver is positioned just beneath the diaphragm in the upper right part of the abdominal cavity. Located near the liver are the other organs it works closely with: the stomach, gallbladder, pancreas and intestines. The liver is dark reddish brown in color and has an irregular hemisphere shape. There are four main lobes in the liver, which is divided into lobules.

Size of the Liver

Weighing just over three pounds, the liver is the largest internal organ in the human body. It is about 20 to 22.5 cm across and 15 to 1.5 cm vertically. The right lobe of the liver is six times larger than the left lobe.

Viruses, medications, genetic diseases and alcohol may seriously damage the liver. If physically damaged, the liver has the ability to regenerate. It can also adjust its size according to the owner.

Liver Conditions

Hepatitis

  • Inflammation of the liver
  • Usually caused by viruses (like hepatitis A, B, C)
  • Also caused by heavy drinking, drugs, allergic reaction or obesity

Cirrhosis

  • Long-term damage to the liver from any cause that can lead to permanent scarring.
  • The liver is unable to function well.

Liver Cancer

  • Linked to cirrhosis
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of liver cancer.

Liver Failure

  • Large parts of the liver become damaged beyond repair so that the liver is no longer able to function
  • Common causes are: Hepatitis B and C, alcoholism, cirrhosis, hemochromatosis and manutrition

Ascites

  • When the liver leaks fluid into the belly
  • The belly will become distended and heavy.

Gallstones

  • Becomes a problem when it becomes stuck in the bile duct draining the liver
  • Hepatitis and bile duct infection (cholangitis) can result.

Hemochromatosis

  • Inherited disorder
  • Causes the body to absorb and store too much iron
  • Allows iron to deposit in the liver, damaging it

Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis

  • Rare disease with unknown causes
  • Causes inflammation and scarring in the bile ducts of the liver

Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

  • Rare disorder
  • Destroys the bile ducts in the liver
  • Permanent cirrhosis develops eventually

 

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