What is Liver? - Functions, Anatomy, Images and Disease

What is a Liver?

The liver is an integral organ of the human body. It is in the upper right of the abdomen, below the diaphragm, and above the right kidney and small intestine. It is reddish brown and weighs about 1.3 to 1.5 kg.

The organ serves essential bodily functions, including regulating metabolism, synthesizing proteins, and producing bile for digestion. Additionally, it stores nutrients and releases them as needed, ensuring the body functions properly.

Structure of the Liver

The liver has two major lobes, called the right and left lobes. The lobe also contains thousands of lobules (smaller lobes). These lobules are interconnected with specialized tubes known as bile ducts. The purpose is to carry bile from the liver to the small intestine to aid digestion.

The gallbladder is located beneath the liver, the pancreas, and parts of the intestines. These organs work with the liver and help in food digestion, absorption, and processing.

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Functions of the Liver

All the blood from the stomach and intestines passes through the liver. It serves several functions. Most chemical levels in the blood are controlled by the liver. Some of the functions include the following:

  1. Detoxification: The liver detoxifies, removing harmful substances like alcohol and drugs from the bloodstream.

  2. Metabolism: The regulation of blood sugar levels by producing, storing, and releasing glucose is one of the functions. Additionally, the liver processes fats and proteins, converting them into usable energy for the body.

  3. Bile Production: The liver produces bile, which aids fat digestion and helps eliminate waste products in the small intestine.

  4. Blood Clotting: Through the production of clotting factors, with the help of Vitamin K, the liver assists in controlling bleeding and prevents excessive blood loss in case of injury.

  5. Hormone Regulation: It plays a vital role in balancing and regulating hormone levels, including hormones like insulin that help control blood sugar.

  6. Glycogen Storage: The liver converts excess glucose into glycogen, storing it for later use. This stored glycogen can be converted back into glucose to provide energy.

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Liver Conditions

The liver is susceptible to diseases that disrupt its normal functioning. These diseases can arise from several factors, like excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, genetic conditions, and infections. 

If left untreated, liver diseases can lead to severe complications but can be managed and even cured with timely treatment. Liver diseases can be broadly categorised into several types, including:

  1. Infectious Diseases: Infections caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites can lead to liver inflammation, resulting in hepatitis A, B, or C.

  2. Metabolic and Genetic Diseases: Certain genetic mutations or metabolic imbalances can cause liver diseases such as Wilson's disease and haemochromatosis.

  3. Alcohol-related Liver Disease: Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to various liver conditions, including cirrhosis and liver failure.

  4. Fatty Liver Disease: This condition occurs when fat accumulates in the liver, leading to inflammation and damage. There are two types: non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD).

  5. Cirrhosis: In this advanced stage of liver disease, scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, impairing liver function.

  6. Liver Cancer: It can originate in the liver. The cancer can spread to other body parts.

  7. Biliary Tract Disease: It includes conditions that affect the bile ducts, such as obstruction or cancer.

Symptoms of Liver Conditions

Liver disease does not always show signs and symptoms. However, some common symptoms include:

  1. Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

  2. Abdominal pain and bloating

  3. Leg and ankle swelling

  4. Dark-coloured urine

  5. Change in stool colour

  6. Tiredness

  7. Itchy skin

  8. Vomiting and nausea

  9. Loss of appetite

  10. Easy bruising of the skin

  11. Body weight loss

If you feel any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

Causes of Liver Conditions

The main culprit for liver disease is often long-term alcohol consumption, but several other factors can contribute to liver disease. These factors include:

Physiological Factors

  1. Metabolic Disorders: Conditions like Wilson's disease and hemochromatosis can lead to liver disease. Wilson's disease results in an abnormal accumulation of copper in the liver, causing damage.

    Hemochromatosis, on the other hand, leads to excessive iron buildup in the liver, resulting in inflammation.

  2. Fatty Liver Diseases: When liver cells accumulate excess fat, it can lead to fatty liver disease. Obesity, high cholesterol levels, or excessive alcohol intake can cause it.
    Over time, this fat buildup can result in inflammation, scarring, and liver damage.

  3. Autoimmune Disorder: In autoimmune hepatitis, the immune system mistakenly attacks liver cells, leading to inflammation and liver damage.

Pathological Factors

  1. Infections: Liver diseases can be caused by viral infections, such as hepatitis A, B, or C. These viruses specifically target liver cells, resulting in inflammation and damage.
    Hepatitis A is typically transmitted through contaminated food or water. While hepatitis B and C are primarily transmitted through infected blood or body fluids contact.

Lifestyle Factors

  1. Alcohol and Tobacco: Consuming alcohol in excess directly harms liver cells, while tobacco smoke contains toxins that can impair liver function and elevate the risk of liver damage.

  2. Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle with minimal physical activity can increase the likelihood of developing liver disease. This lack of exercise contributes to the accumulation of fat in the liver.

  3. Overusing drugs: Misusing certain medications or illegal drugs can cause liver damage. Some drugs have direct toxic effects on liver cells, leading to inflammation and liver disease.
    Others can induce drug-induced liver injury or worsen existing liver conditions.

Liver Function Test

To diagnose liver diseases, the doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask about the patient's medical history. Additional tests may be recommended to confirm liver-related symptoms:

  1. Serum Bilirubin Test: This test measures the level of bilirubin in the body, which increases liver diseases.
    Elevated bilirubin levels help confirm the presence of liver-related conditions.

  2. Albumin Test: Albumin is a type of protein synthesised by the liver. A decrease in its quantity in the body can indicate liver dysfunction or disease.

  3. Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP) Test: ALP is a group of enzymes produced by various body parts, including the liver, intestines, kidneys, and bones.
    This test helps detect liver-related diseases by measuring the levels of ALP in the blood.

  4. Alanine Transaminase (ALT) Test: ALT is a liver-specific enzyme produced by hepatocytes, the liver cells. An increase in ALT levels indicates liver damage or dysfunction.

  5. Imaging Tests: Various imaging tests, such as ultrasound, MRI, and CT scan, may be performed to visualise the liver and detect any abnormalities or structural changes.

  6. Liver Biopsy: A small sample of liver tissue is taken for analysis to check for liver cancer or other diseases in a liver biopsy.

Treatment of Liver Condition

Treatment of liver diseases is necessary. There can be surgical and non-surgical treatments for liver diseases.

Non-Surgical Treatments

Non-surgical methods help manage symptoms or slow the progression of some liver diseases. For example:

Treatment of Liver Diseases with Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can help protect the liver and prevent the development of liver disease. These measures include:

  1. Drink Plenty of Water: Staying hydrated can help flush toxins out of the body and help with liver function.
  2. Exercise Regularly: Engaging in regular physical activity can help improve overall health and reduce the risk of liver damage.
  3. Maintain a Healthy Weight: Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of liver damage. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise helps reduce the risk of liver damage.
  4. Reducing Stress: Stress can have a negative effect on liver health, so finding ways to manage stress through exercise, meditation, or therapy may be beneficial.

Treatment of Liver Diseases with Food

Changing your diet can be crucial in treating liver disease and enhancing liver function. Here are some dietary modifications that may be beneficial for individuals with liver problems:

  1. Increase Fibre Intake: Including fibre-rich food, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains, can help improve liver function and reduce the risk of liver disease.
  2. Incorporate Green Tea: Drinking green tea has been associated with reducing oxidative stress in the liver and promoting better liver function.
  3. Limit processed and high-fat foods: Consuming a diet high in unhealthy fats and processed foods contribute to liver disease. Limit the intake of these foods to support liver health.
  4. Control Salt Intake: Consuming a diet high in salt can also contribute to liver disease. Limiting your salt intake can help protect your liver and prevent further complications.
  5. Avoid Excessive Sugar: Too much sugar consumption can lead to the development of fatty liver disease. It is recommended to minimize your sugar intake to support liver health.

Surgical Treatment of Liver Condition

In certain situations, surgery may be required to address liver-related conditions. Here are some common surgical treatments:

  1. Liver Resection: This procedure involves removing the damaged or diseased portion of the liver. It is often performed for individuals with liver tumours to eliminate the affected area.
  2. Liver Abscess Drainage: A drainage procedure may be performed when pus accumulates within the liver tissue, causing a liver abscess. This helps alleviate pressure on the liver and promotes healing.
  3. Liver Transplant: Liver transplant surgery involves replacing a diseased or damaged liver with a healthy liver from a donor. It is typically considered for individuals with end-stage liver disease who cannot be treated effectively through other methods

Prevention of Liver Conditions

The best way to avoid liver disease is to take proactive steps towards a healthier life. By following some rules, you can prevent liver disease, such as:

  1. Don't drink alcohol

  2. Eat only fully-cooked food

  3. Drink clean water

  4. Maintain a healthy body weight

  5. Control diabetes and cholesterol

  6. Get Hepatitis vaccination

  7. Take medicines as per the doctor's advice


The liver performs hundreds of functions that are vital to human life. It acts as a filter, removing toxins and waste products from our blood. In addition, the liver plays a role in digestion by producing bile.

Many common conditions and diseases can damage the liver, but you can prevent it, too.

Take advantage of the opportunity to visit HexaHealth and receive a dedicated consultation tailored to your liver treatment needs.

Our team of experts is here to guide you through any questions, providing exceptional medical assistance every step of the way.

Updated on : 10 July 2023


About Authors

HexaHealth Care Team

HexaHealth Care Team brings you medical content covering many important conditions, procedures falling under different medical specialities. The content published is thoroughly reviewed by our panel of qualified doctors for its accuracy and relevance.

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