Liver Disease

What is liver disease? (Continued)

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 the 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.

The liver can be considered a factory; and among its many functions include the following:

  • production of bile that is required in the digestion of food, in particular fats;
  • storing of the extra glucose or sugar in the body into stored glycogen in liver cells; and then converting it back into glucose when the body needs it for energy;
  • production of blood clotting factors;
  • production of amino acids (the building blocks for making proteins), including those used to help fight infection;
  • the processing and storage of iron necessary for red blood cell production;
  • manufacture of cholesterol and other chemicals required for fat transport;
  • conversion of waste products of body metabolism into urea that is excreted in the urine; and
  • metabolizing medications into their active ingredient in the body.

Cirrhosis is a term that describes permanent scarring of the liver. In cirrhosis, the normal liver cells are replaced by scar tissue that cannot perform any liver function.

Acute liver failure may or may not be reversible, meaning that on occasion, there is a treatable cause and the liver may be able to recover and resume its normal functions.

Reviewed on 6/22/2012

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