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The Liver

Digestive SystemYour liver is crucial to your survival. Without a functioning liver you will die. That's because the liver does many functions that are essential to life.

Your liver is about the size of a football, weighs about three pounds and is tucked in behind your lower ribs on the right side of your abdomen. It is the largest organ inside our bodies. It is one of the few organs that can actually regenerate itself. That means if a portion is cut off, it grows back. That doesn't mean however, we can treat our liver badly and we won't suffer.

What it does

The American Liver Foundation (ALF) calls the liver the body's refinery. By acting like a filter, the liver takes things and converts them into other things that the body can use or into substances that can be safely disposed of. In fact, blood from your stomach and your intestines goes through the liver before heading out to other parts of the body. ALF says the liver also makes some substances on its own, like bile, which is sent to the gall bladder and then into the intestine to help with digestion.

Here's a list of some of the other things your liver does, according to ALF and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK):

Signs and symptoms of liver disease

Because of all that it does, a damaged liver can impact the rest of the body seriously. This can lead to a number of signs and symptoms. Not all of these may be present. In fact, some people with liver disease may have no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they can include:

Liver diseases and some other digestive disorders can also result in damage to the brain. (Read about "The Brain") When the liver doesn't work the way it should to neutralize toxins in the body, those toxins can build up, resulting in encephalopathy. (Read about "Encephalopathy")

Diagnosing liver disease

When diagnosing liver disease, your doctor will consider your symptoms and conduct a physical examination. Additional tests may be done, including an ultrasound or a CT scan (Read about "CT Scan - Computerized Tomography" "Ultrasound Imaging"). Your doctor may also want a liver biopsy, in which a small sample of tissue is taken with a needle and then examined under a microscope (Read about "Biopsy"). Your doctor may also want to use a special endoscopic procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). ERCP enables the physician to diagnose problems in the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas.

Diseases and conditions

There are a number of diseases and conditions that can damage the liver, or result from damage to the liver. They include:

Children and liver disease

There are also many liver diseases that infants and children suffer from. Some of those are:

Treat it well

If you have a healthy liver, taking care of it can help keep you healthy. Remember that just about everything that enters your body, food, medication, alcohol, even chemicals we absorb through our skin, passes through the liver. Send enough bad stuff there and you can expect problems. Megadoses of vitamins and herbal supplements (Read about "Herbal Precautions") can cause problems according to ALF so make sure you talk to your doctor before you start taking them.

Related Information:

    Digestive System


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By printing and/or reading this article, you agree that you accept all terms and conditions of use, as specified online.