Front view of the liver
The liver is a large, fleshy organ that sits on the right side of the abdomen. Weighing about 3 pounds, the liver is reddish-brown in color and looks like rubber to the touch. Normally you cannot feel the liver, as it is protected by a rib cage.
The liver has two large parts, called the right and left lobes. The gallbladder sits below the liver, along with parts of the pancreas and intestines. The liver and these organs work together to digest, absorb, and process food.
The main function of the liver is to filter the blood coming from the digestive system before sending it to the rest of the body. The liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. As it happens, the liver secretes bile which ends up back in the intestines. The liver also makes protein important for blood clotting and other functions.
Types of Liver Disease Include:
- Hepatitis: Inflammation of the liver, usually caused by viruses such as hepatitis A, B and C. There can also be non-communicable causes of hepatitis, including heavy drinking, drugs, allergies or obesity.
- Cirrhosis: Prolonged damage to the liver for any reason can lead to a permanent scar called cirrhosis. The liver then becomes unable to function properly.
- Liver cancer: The most common type of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, almost always occurs after cirrhosis is present.
- Liver failure: There are many causes of liver failure including infections, genetic diseases and excessive alcohol consumption.
- Ascites: As a result of cirrhosis, the liver leaks fluid (ascites) into the stomach, which becomes deformed and heavy.
- Gallstones: If gallstones in the bile duct are coming out of the liver, hepatitis and biliary tract infection (colitis) can occur.
- Hemochromatosis: Hemochromatosis allows iron to accumulate in the liver, damaging it. Iron accumulates throughout the body, causing many other health problems.
- Primary sclerosing hepatitis: A rare disease caused by unknown causes, primary sclerosing hepatitis causes inflammation and scarring in the bile ducts in the liver.
- Primary bile cirrhosis: In this rare disorder, an obscure process gradually destroys the bile ducts in the liver. Permanent liver scarring (cirrhosis) eventually develops.
Liver Blood Test:
- Liver Function Panel: The Liver Function Panel checks how well the liver is working and consists of several different blood tests.
- ALT (Alanine Aminotransferase): An elevated ALT helps diagnose liver disease or damage from any cause, including hepatitis.
- AST (aspartate aminotransferase): With ALT, AST investigates liver damage.
- Alkaline Phosphate: Alkaline phosphate is present in bile-secreting cells in the liver; It is also in the bones. High levels often mean that the flow of bile from the liver is blocked.
- Bilirubin: High bilirubin levels suggest a liver problem.
- Albumin: As part of total protein levels, albumin helps determine how well the liver is working.
- Ammonia: When the liver is not working properly, the level of ammonia in the blood increases.
- Hepatitis A Test: If hepatitis A is suspected, the doctor will test the liver function as well as antibodies to detect the hepatitis A virus.
- Hepatitis B Test: Your doctor may test antibody levels to determine if you are infected with the hepatitis B virus.
- Hepatitis C Test: In addition to checking liver function, blood tests can determine if you are infected with the hepatitis C virus.
- Prothrombin Time (PT): Prothrombin Time, or PT, is usually done to see if a blood thinner is taking the right dose of warfarin (Coumadin). It also checks for the problem of blood clots.
- Partial Thromboplastin Time (PTT): A PTT is performed to check for blood clotting problems.
Liver Imaging Test:
- Ultrasound: Abdominal ultrasound can test for many liver conditions, including cancer, cirrhosis or gallstones.
- CT scan (computed tomography): CT scan of the abdomen gives detailed pictures of the liver and other organs of the abdomen.
- Liver Biopsy: A liver biopsy is usually performed after another test, such as a blood test or ultrasound, which indicates a possible liver problem.
- Liver and Spleen Scan: This nuclear scan uses radioactive material to help diagnose a number of conditions, including abscesses, tumors and other liver function problems.
- Treatment of Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A usually goes away with time.
- Hepatitis B Treatment: Chronic hepatitis B often requires treatment with antiviral medication.
- Hepatitis C Treatment: Treatment for hepatitis C depends on many factors.
- Liver Transplant: Liver transplant is needed when the liver is not working properly, whatever the reason.
- Treatment of Liver Cancer: While liver cancer is usually difficult to treat, treatment involves chemotherapy and radiation. In some cases, surgical resection or liver transplantation is performed.
- Paracentesis: When severe ascites – inflammation of the abdomen due to liver failure – causes discomfort, a needle may be inserted through the skin to remove fluid from the abdomen.
- ERCP (Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography): Using a camera and finally equipment using a long, flexible tube, doctors can diagnose and treat certain liver problems.