Liver disease (also called hepatic disease) is a broad term describing any single number of diseases affecting the liver. Many are accompanied by jaundice caused by increased levels of bilirubin in the system. The bilirubin results from the breakup of the hemoglobin of dead red blood cells. Normally, the liver removes bilirubin from the blood and excretes it through bile.
The 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: converting nutrients derived from food into essential blood components, storing vitamins and minerals, regulating blood clotting, producing proteins and enzymes, maintaining hormone balances, and metabolizing and detoxifying substances that would otherwise be harmful to the body. The liver makes factors that help the human immune system fight infection, removes bacteria from the blood, and makes bile, which is essential for digestion.
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Liver disease 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 deposition and build-up of damaging substances such as iron or copper. Effects may include inflammation, scarring, obstructions, clotting abnormalities, and liver failure.
Liver disease is a broad term that covers all the potential problems that may occur to cause the liver to fail to perform its designated functions. Usually, more than 75% or three quarters of liver tissue needs to be affected before decrease in function occurs.
Normally, veins return blood from the body to the heart, but the portal vein allows chemicals from the digestive tract to enter the liver for “detoxification” and filtering prior to entering the general circulation. The portal vein also efficiently delivers the chemicals and proteins that liver cells need to produce the proteins, cholesterol, and glycogen required for normal body activities.
As part of its function, the liver makes bile, a fluid that contains among other substances, water, chemicals, and bile acids (made from stored cholesterol in the liver). Bile is stored in the gallbladder and when food enters the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine), bile is secreted into the duodenum, to aid in digestion of food.
The liver is the only organ in the body that can easily replace damaged cells, but if enough cells are lost, the liver may not be able to meet the needs of the body.