The liver is a vital organ to our body and does so many remarkable things like:
- Makes bile, a substance that helps the body absorb fats
- Makes proteins and blood-‐clotting factors that the body needs
- Regulates glucose (sugar) in the blood and stores extra sugar
- Works with the stomach and intestines to digest food
- Stores vitamins and minerals
- Removes toxic (poisonous) substances from the blood
Parts of the Liver and how it functions with nearby organs
The liver works as essential part of our digestive system.
- Biliary tree A network of tubes that carry bile out of the liver and into the duodenum.
- Bile ducts Tubes between the liver and small intestine. Bile drains into them from the liver.
- Common bile duct The duct from the liver (hepatic duct) and the duct from the gallbladder (cystic duct) meet to form the common bile duct. The common bile duct carries bile to the duodenum.
- Duodenum The first part of the small intestine. When bile leaves the liver, it flows through the bile ducts into the duodenum. Here, bile starts mixing with food to help digestion.
- Gallbladder An organ that stores bile.
- Spleen An organ that filters blood. It also helps keep the body healthy and free of infection, as part of the immune system.
- Splenic vein A blood vessel that carries blood from the spleen to the portal vein.
- Portal vein A blood vessel that carries nutrient-‐rich blood from the digestive tract and spleen into the liver.
- Inferior vena cava A large vein that carries blood from the liver, legs and kidneys to the heart. Hepatic veins Blood vessels that carry blood out of the liver to the inferior vena cava. Hepatic artery A blood vessel that carries blood into the liver from the heart.
Blood Flows through the Liver
All the blood that flows from the intestines, stomach and spleen is filtered through the liver. The blood flows into the liver through the portal vein. It filters through the liver in a system of smaller and smaller veins. As blood passes over liver cells, these cells process nutrients in the blood. This processing makes products like proteins and sugars that can be used by the body. Blood is carried out of the liver through the hepatic vein to the heart.
There are many kinds of liver diseases. Viruses cause some of them, like hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Others can be the result of drugs, poisons or drinking too much alcohol. If the liver forms scar tissue because of an illness, it’s called cirrhosis. Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, can be one sign of liver disease.
Cancer can affect the liver. You could also inherit a liver disease such as hemochromatosis. Blood tests and a thorough examination by one of our board certified gastroenterologists may be needed to rule this out.