What is the liver and what does it do?
The liver is a spongy, wedge-shaped organ in the human body. The size of your liver varies based on your height and weight. The liver is an essential organ, performing hundreds of necessary functions. It's also a gland because it makes proteins and hormones that other parts of the body need.
The liver does many important tasks, including:
- Breaking down food and turning it into energy
- Clearing the blood of particles, infections, and bacteria
- Combating infections
- Controlling levels of fats, amino acids, and glucose in the blood
- Making enzymes and proteins which are responsible for most chemical reactions in the body
- Manufacturing, breaking down and regulating hormones including sex hormones
- Neutralising drugs and toxins
- Processing digested food
- Storing iron, vitamins, and other essential chemicals
What conditions affect your liver?
There are many conditions which can negatively affect the liver. Some of the most common include:
- Alcohol-related liver disease and fatty liver disease
- Inherited diseases like hemochromatosis (iron overload) and Wilson disease (too much copper in the body).
- Liver cancer
- Problems when the immune system attacks the liver, such as autoimmune hepatitis, and primary biliary cholangitis and primary sclerosing cholangitis
- Viral infections, such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Many of these conditions can lead to scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis. Sometimes, the damaged liver tissue can regenerate. Other times, liver disease can cause serious symptoms and even be life-threatening.
What are the symptoms of liver problems?
One of the most common signs of a liver problem is jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. This happens when there’s too much bilirubin – a waste product produced in the liver – present in the blood. Other symptoms of liver problems can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Build-up of fluid in the stomach area
- Bruising easily.
- Confusion or loss of orientation
- Itchy skin.
- Low blood pressure
- Swelling in the legs or ankles
- Weakness, loss of balance or constant fatigue.