The liver: Structure, function, and disease

LIVER

The body’s largest solid organ is the liver. It is located in the upper portion of the abdomen. It is just below the diaphragm.

The liver is segmented into two sections called the left and the right lobe.

The liver is brown coloured, and the main function of the organ is to filter the blood which comes from the digestive tract.

The liver is also responsible for making bile, a digestive juice in the stomach. The bile juice contains cholesterol which is responsible for breaking down fat.

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It is an important organ of the digestive system as it is responsible for synthesizing protein and producing various biochemicals that are necessary for digestion.

This organ is important to the body’s metabolic functions and also for the immune system.

Without a healthy liver functioning, a person cannot survive.

What is the structure of a liver?

The liver is a half-moon-shaped organ. The left portion of the liver is above the stomach and the right portion is above a part of the small intestine.

The two main lobes of the liver are further divided into eight segments. Every segment has approximately a thousand lobules that are also called small lobes.

Compared to the rest of the organs in the body, the liver has more blood flowing through it.

What are the functions of the liver?

The liver is responsible for performing a few important functions in the body:

  • Breaking down and converting food substances
  • Extracting nutrients required for the body from food
  • Reduce the harmfulness of toxins
  • Eliminating toxins that are harmful to the body.

The liver is able to do this as it receives the nutrients from the digestive organs through the portal vein. The liver will then filter the blood.

The liver also produces approximately a thousand milliliters of bile every day. This digestive juice into the small intestine helps break down fats.

One super ability of the liver

The liver is an amazing organ as it has the capacity to regenerate.

Regeneration means that after surgery or an injury when the tissues are removed the liver can grow back to a certain extent.

The liver does that by having existing cells enlarged. After that new liver cells begin to multiply.

It is extremely important to keep the super organ healthy.

Can disease develop in the liver?

Yes, there are a few types of diseases that can affect the liver. Such diseases can also affect the functionality of the organ.

Liver diseases are of various types based on the cause.

They are:

  • Viral infection
  • immune system defects
  • inherited diseases
  • cancer
  • Intake of excessive toxins.

Some diseases can be treated while some do not have treatment.

Some of the common conditions that affect the liver are:

Autoimmune hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition where the body’s immune system would attack itself.

It would destroy even the healthy liver tissues. This health condition can lead to other complexity and damage the liver.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis refers to a viral infection that can cause inflammation. These have different letters which indicate different causes and their severity.

Hepatitis A is most commonly found in regions that do not have access to clean drinking water and have poor sanitization.

This condition does not lead to liver failure or long-term conditions and people can recover from it.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B will cause either a short-term or long-term infection. This is spread through sexual contact.

However, a person can also hit it through needles.

This condition will cause serious complications like liver care or cancer. There are vaccinations to prevent hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C can be acute or chronic, which means the infection can be short or long-term.

A person can get the disease by coming in contact with blood contaminated needles containing hepatitis virus.

This condition will cause inflammation and can lead to cirrhosis or liver failure.

Hemochromatosis

Hemochromatosis is a health condition that is caused by excessive iron buildup in the body.

In the body, too much iron can damage the liver.

Primary hemochromatosis is caused by genetic conditions that can interfere with the production of red blood cells in the body.

Secondary hemochromatosis is caused when too much iron enters the body through diet or blood transfusion.

Neonatal hemochromatosis is a rare condition that would affect the fetus in the womb.

Biliary atresia

Biliary atresia is a health condition that affects the bile duct present in the liver in newborn babies.

The bile duct in the liver gets blocked. This condition can happen due to inflammation.

It is treated with the help of surgeries or liver transplants.

NASH

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a health condition where the fat builds up in the liver.

Excessive fat will damage the liver and cause inflammation.

This health condition is a form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease which occurs in people who carry additional pounds and have health conditions related to obesity.

People with type two diabetes are most likely to have this disease.

Cirrhosis and liver failure

Cirrhosis is a health condition where damaged tissues replace healthy tissues in the liver.

This is a serious health condition that can further complex into liver failure. Immediate medical treatment is mandatory.

Cirrhosis is caused due to various conditions.

Excessive alcoholism, chronic hepatitis and genetic conditions or a few common conditions that cause cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis may also occur when there is high pressure in the liver’s portal vein. This particular condition is called portal hypertension.

Portal hypertension can cause fluid leaks into the abdomen.

Due to this the abdomen would become swollen. This condition is painful.

Liver failure can be acute or chronic. Acute liver failure happens suddenly without prior warning within weeks or days.

Some of the causes of acute liver failure are:

  • Insufficient or inadequate supply of blood
  • Hepatitis
  • Excessive drug abuse 
  • Dietary supplements
  • Too much Tylenol.

Alcoholic liver disease

A metabolic condition that affects the liver is alcoholic liver disease.

This is caused when there is excessive alcoholism for a long period of time.

 The rate of progression may differ from person to person but it can be broadly classified under three stages

  • Accumulation of fat in the liver
  • Inflammation of liver
  • Cirrhosis

It is important to remember that the type of alcohol doesn’t affect a person if they can develop this condition.

Liver cancer

When cells grow uncontrollably in the liver, it is called liver cancer.

Liver cancer destroys healthy cells and affects the normal functionality of the liver. People with cirrhosis have a high chance of developing liver cancer.

Liver cancer needs proper medical attention to be treated.

How can we identify symptoms of liver conditions?

Liver diseases will not always cause notable signs.

Many liver disease conditions exhibit themselves with symptoms like flu and then gradually progress to more severe signs of liver damage.

Some of the commonly exhibited symptoms may include

When the liver disease becomes serious the body may exhibit:

  • Confusion and difficulty in thinking
  • Impotence
  • Gynaecomastia
  • Jaundice

Is medical supervision required?

It is very important to have medical supervision if the above-mentioned signs and symptoms are persistent.

Seeking immediate medical attention is essential so that the severity would not develop into a more grave health condition.

Proper diagnosis and treatment can help a person combat liver disease.

What are the risk factors involved?

A few factors that may increase the chances of developing liver disease are:

Exposing the body to toxins

The half-moon-shaped organ is responsible for cleaning toxins from the blood. When the body is over-exposed to toxins, it can be harmful to the liver.

Hazardous supplements

There are a few supplements in the market which are termed natural but may not be as good as they claim.

Especially the herbal supplements prevalent in the market can damage the liver.

Excessive alcohol

Fatty liver can cause liver inflammation that can progress into more serious health conditions.

Obesity and high cholesterol

Health conditions like obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol can damage the liver.

How to prevent liver diseases?

Certain lifestyle changes can keep the liver healthy. To prevent a few types of liver disease:

Consume alcohol in moderation

For an average healthy adult consuming one or two drinks a day is advised. If a person consumes more than that they may have a chance of developing various health diseases.

Vaccination

If a person is in a place that may increase the chance of getting in touch with hepatitis virus it is important for them to get vaccinated.

People are now more aware of the disease and are getting vaccinated.

Having a check on medications

Taking medications with proper medical consultation and in recommended doses is mandatory.

Consult a doctor before consuming any supplementation to know the pros and cons of it.

Weight management

Obesity calls for various health issues including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Therefore, it is important to keep the weight under control with regular exercise.

Some of the other ways to keep your liver healthy are:

  • Practicing safe sex
  • Not sharing personal care items like razors
  • Maintaining a balanced diet with adequate fibre.
  • Limiting the consumption of red meat
  • Avoiding contact with other people’s body fluids

To sum up

The liver is a key player in our body. We need to keep the liver healthy.

It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to prevent the liver from being a wreck.

Finding the right cause and the severity of the liver damage is important for treatment.

A doctor would monitor the health of a person and provide necessary treatment.

FAQ

1.Which is one of the first signs of liver disease?

The body initially exhibits a few symptoms of liver disease like yellowish eyes or skin, abdominal pain or swelling, itchy skin, dark urine, nausea and vomiting.

2. What is the most important function of the liver?

The liver is responsible for
Regulating most of the chemical levels in the blood
Excretion of bile.
Absorbing nutrients from the bloodstream.

 3.How can I protect my liver naturally?

Liver wellness can be achieved if a person maintains a healthy weight, consumes a balanced meal, exercises regularly and avoid toxins entering the body

4.Can liver diseases be prevented?

There are steps a person can adopt to prevent liver diseases.  Making dietary and lifestyle changes can lower the risk of developing liver disease. 
Consulting a medical professional is recommended for personalized advice.

5.What is the best cure for the liver?

Medical programs recommend people to make lifestyle modifications and avoid excessive alcoholism to reduce the risks of developing liver diseases.
 Such changes can help the liver to recover.

6.Can liver problems be cured?

Some liver problems can be cured with certain lifestyle changes but there are liver diseases like cirrhosis that have no cure.
 The damage made by such diseases or permanent.

7.What are the major risk factors linked to liver disease?

Some of the factors that increase the risk of developing liver diseases are excessive alcoholism, obesity, diabetes, tattoos, blood transfusion and unprotected sex.

8. What are the common problems of the liver?

Some of the common problems with liver are:
Autoimmune hepatitis
Cirrhosis
Hepatitis A
Hepatitis B
Hepatitis C
Hepatitis D
Hepatitis E

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