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Liver Disease

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Also known as: Hepatic Disease

What is the liver?

Thumbnail image of the liverThe liver is a vital organ located in the upper right-hand side of the abdomen. It is as large as a football, weighs 2-3 pounds, and performs numerous functions for the body, including: metabolizing and detoxifying substances that would otherwise be harmful to the body, converting nutrients derived from food into essential blood components, regulating blood clotting, producing proteins and enzymes, maintaining hormone balances, and storing some vitamins. The liver also makes factors that help the human immune system fight infection, removes bacteria from the blood, and makes bile, which is essential for digestion.

Bile, a greenish-yellow fluid consisting of bile acids or salts and waste products such as bilirubin (which comes from breakdown of old red blood cells) and other bile pigments, flows through small bile ducts inside the liver. The bile moves from these small ducts into larger ones, like streams into a river, eventually converging into the common bile duct and exiting the liver. Some of the bile flows directly to the duodenum; the rest is stored and concentrated in the gallbladder. After a person eats, the gallbladder, a fist-sized organ that sits next to the liver, releases some of the stored bile into the small intestine, where it helps to digest fats.

What is liver disease?
Liver disease is any condition that causes liver inflammation or damage, and may affect liver function. It is categorized both by the cause and the effect it has on the liver. Causes may include infection, injury, exposure to drugs or toxic compounds, an autoimmune process, or a genetic defect that leads to the depositing and build-up of damaging substances, such as iron or copper. Effects of these injuries to the liver may include inflammation, scarring, obstructions, blood clotting abnormalities, and liver failure. The table on the next page of this article summarizes types of liver disease with links to more information about the various types.

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