All You Need To Know About The Liver

What is Liver?

Your liver is a large organ in your body which processes your blood and helps to clean unwanted substances out of it. The liver is one of the most vital organs of the body, responsible for hundreds of chemical actions that the body needs to survive. It is also a gland because it secretes chemicals that are used by other parts of the body. For these reasons the liver is both an organ and a gland; it is the largest internal organ in the body.

The English Colin’s dictionary defines liver as a “multilobed high vascular reddish brown glandular organ occupying most of the upper right part of the human abdominal cavity immediately below the diaphragm. It secretes bile, stores glycogen, detoxifies certain poisons, and plays an important role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fat, helping to maintain a correct balance of nutrients.”

What are the Functions of the Liver?

• Processing digestive food from the intestine

• Controlling levels of fats, amino acids and glucose in the blood

• Combating infections

• Clearing the blood particles and infections, including bacteria

• Neutralising and destroying all drugs and toxins

• Manufacturing bile

• Storing iron, vitamins and other essential chemicals

• Breaking down food and turning it into energy

• Manufacturing, breaking down and regulating numerous hormones including sex hormones

• Making enzymes and proteins which are responsible for most chemical reactions in the body, for example those involved in blood clotting and repair of damaged tissues.

To summarise the most important functions of the liver include producing quick energy. One of the livers most important functions is to break down food and convert it into energy. Carbohydrates such as bread and potatoes are broken down into glucose and stored mainly in the liver and muscles as glycogen.

Your liver also helps the body to get rid of waste. Waste products which are not excreted by your kidneys are removed from the blood by the liver. If the liver is damaged then this ability becomes impaired as some people may lose the ability to control glucose concentration in the blood and may need a regular supply of sugar.

Fighting infections is another important function for the liver as your liver plays a vital role in fighting infections, particularly infections arising in the bowel. It does this by mobilising part of your body’s defence mechanism called the macrophage system. The liver contains over half the body’s half of the body’s supply of macrophages, known as Kupffer cells, which literally destroy any bacteria that they come into contact with. If the liver is damaged in any way then the ability for the liver to fight infections becomes impaired.

The liver has several functions. It secretes bile into the intestines to absorb fats, breaks down and stores nutrients, manufactures clotting factors needed to stop bleeding, and breaks down toxic agents, like alcohol and drugs. Once the toxic agents are broken down, they can be eliminated from the body through urine or stool.

What is the Appearance of Liver?

The liver is a large, meaty organ that sits on the right side of the belly. The normal weight is around 3 pounds (1.4 kilos) and the result of excessive alcohol consumption can increase the size and weight of the liver. The size of the liver will vary depending on the weight of the person. The liver is a reddish brown colour and feels rubbery to the touch.

Normally, you cannot feel the liver because it is protected by the rib cage.

The liver has two large sections, called the left and right 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 is located in the upper right hand portion of the abdominal cavity, beneath the diaphragm and on top of the stomach, right kidney, and intestines.

The liver is a dark reddish brown organ as mentioned previously it serves multiple functions. There are two distinct sources that supply blood to the liver including oxygenated blood flows from the hepatic artery, nutrient rich blood flows in from the hepatic portal vein. The liver consists of two main lobes, both of which are made up of 8 segments. The segments are made up of a thousand lobules. The lobules are connected to small ducts that connect with larger ducts to ultimately form the common hepatic duct. The common hepatic duct transports bile produced by the liver cells to the gallbladder and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The liver is a large organ that sits on the right hand side of the belly.

The liver is the body’s largest internal organ.

The liver is the largest organ inside the body and is located under the right ribs and beneath the right lung.


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What are the Stages of Liver Disease?

Stage 1 Inflammation

In the beginning stage of chronic liver disease, the liver becomes swollen and inflamed. This condition hepatitis may occur because of viral infection, injury, alcohol abuse, autoimmune disease or as a reaction to drugs. Acute hepatitis is short term and lasts several months, whilst chronic hepatitis develops slowly and is usually without symptoms to start. Hepatitis is usually diagnosed with blood tests or liver biopsy and is followed by treatment that is dependent upon the source of inflammation. The good news is that the stage is highly treatable so that the resultant scarring of chronic inflammation, of fibrosis can be prevented.

Stage 2 Fibrosis

The immune system acts to repair the damage that is causing hepatitis, but since the livers ability to process collagen and other substances is hindered, scar tissue builds up faster than it can be broken down and accumulates over time, resulting in fibrosis. The functional part of the liver is now left at a disadvantage and has to work extra hard to complete the tasks of the entire organ. Fibrosis is treatable and can be detected using non-invasive imaging, blood tests or liver biopsy. However, if fibrosis progresses it leads to cirrhosis a state in which scarring is severe and the blood flow through the liver becomes restricted.

Stage 3 Cirrhosis

Years of increasing live fibrosis causes severe damage and can bring on cirrhosis, a condition in which the liver becomes stiff due to nodules surrounded by scar tissue. In compensated cirrhosis, the liver is extremely scarred, but can still carry out important tasks and may not show symptoms. Small varices or abdominal veins in the oesophagus and stomach may be silently present at this point. Compensated cirrhosis turns into decompensated cirrhosis when signs of serious complications begin to show. People in this phase often experience symptoms of tiredness, nausea, weakened appetite easily bruising.

What are the Symptoms of Liver Disease?

• Feeling very tired and weak all the time

• Loss of appetite which can contribute towards weight loss

• Yellow skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)

• Abdominal pain and swelling

• Swelling in the legs and ankles

• Itchy skin

• Dark urine colour

• Pale stool colour, or bloody or tar coloured stool

• Chronic Fatigue

• Nausea or vomiting

• Tendency to bruise easily

• Diarrhoea

liver disease stages

How is Liver Disease Diagnosed?

• If you are experiencing any symptoms listed above then go and visit your GP and they will usually give you a blood test to start with; this will determine your liver levels and given the indication to the condition of it.

• Blood tests- A group of blood tests called liver function tests can be used to diagnose liver disease. Other blood tests can be done to look for specific liver problems or genetic conditions.

• Imaging tests- An ultrasound, CT scan and MRI can show liver damage.

• Tissue analysis- Removing a tissue sample (biopsy) from your liver may help diagnose liver disease and look for signs of liver damage. A liver biopsy is most often done using a long needle inserted into the skin to extract a tissue sample. It is then analysed in a laboratory.

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What is a Liver Function Test?

A liver function test helps to determine the health of your liver by measuring the levels of proteins, liver enzymes, or bilirubin in your blood. A liver function test is often given to screen for liver infections such as hepatitis C, to monitor a liver disease progress, to measure the degree of scarring (cirrhosis) on the liver, if you’re experiencing symptoms of a liver disorder. Liver function tests are used to measure specific enzymes and proteins in your blood. Liver function tests can help determine if your liver is working correctly.

What are the Different Types of Liver Disease?

• Alcohol related liver disease- This refers to liver damage caused by excess alcohol intake.

• Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease- this is the term used for a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver usually seen in people who are overweight or obese.

• Hepatitis- this is the term used to describe inflammation of the liver. It’s usually the result of a viral infection leading to liver damage or caused by drinking alcohol.

• Cirrhosis- this is a type of liver disease that can get gradually worse over time.

What are the Risk factors of Liver Disease?

• Excessive alcohol/ exposure to toxins

• Poor diet

• Genetics

• Tattoos or body piercings

• Sharing needles used to inject drugs

• Exposure to certain chemicals

• Unprotected sex

• Diabetes

• Obesity

How do you keep your Liver Healthy?

• Try to maintain a healthy weight

• Avoid drinking too much alcohol

• Regular exercise

• Eating a healthy balanced diet

• If taking illicit drugs do not share needles used to inject drugs

• Get vaccinated for hepatitis

• Go to see your GP if you are experiencing symptoms listed

liver disease prevention healthy liver foodshepatitis vaccine

What is Primary Liver Cancer?

Primary liver cancer is rare in the UK, but the number of people developing it is increasing. Around 4,200 people in the UK are diagnosed with it each year. Primary liver cancer is a condition or disease that happens when normal cells in the liver become abnormal in appearance and behaviour. The cancer cells can then become destructive to adjacent normal tissues, and can spread both to other areas of the liver and to organs outside the liver. Liver cancer is also called hepatic cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Primary Liver Cancer?

• Loss of appetite and feeling full very quickly after eating

• Weight loss with no obvious reason

• Feeling sick nausea and vomiting

• Feeling extremely tired, generally weak or unwell

• Aching or pain in the area of the liver

• High temperature and flu-like symptoms

• Swollen tummy caused by fluid build-up (ascites)

• Jaundice If you experience any of the above symptoms regularly then see your doctor immediately and get them checked and diagnosed immediately.

What is Secondary Liver Cancer?

Secondary liver cancer is the place where a cancer starts in the body is called the primary cancer. Sometimes cells break away from the primary cancer and are carried in the bloodstream to another part of the body. The cancer cells may settle in that part of the body and form a new tumour. If this happens, it’s called a secondary cancer or a metastasis. Secondary cancer in the liver happens when cancer cells spread to the liver from a primary cancer somewhere else in the body.

What are the Symptoms of Secondary Liver Cancer?

• Loss of appetite

• Weight loss

• Nausea

• Fatigue

• Aching or pain in the area of the liver and sometimes right shoulder

• High temperature and flu-like symptoms

• A swollen tummy which may be caused by fluid build-up called ascites

• Jaundice

liver cancer

What are the Risk Factors of Liver Cancer?

• Excessive alcohol consumption

• Chronic infection with Hepatitis B Virus or Hepatitis C Virus increases your risk of liver cancer

• Cirrhosis is progressive and can be irreversible condition causes the scar tissue to form in your liver and can increase your chances of developing liver cancer

• Certain inherited liver diseases

• Diabetes as people with this blood sugar disorder are at greater risk of developing liver cancer than those who don’t have diabetes


List of Charitable Organisations in the UK that help with Liver Health

British Liver Trust 

Liver Research

Liver Foundation UK


Liver Cancer Surgery Appeal

Liver Health UK

Liver Care

The Liver Group Charity

Useful Sources Include