What side is your liver on?

Just like the heart and the brain, the liver is also a vital organ in the body. It is therefore important to know information about the organ, such as liver functions, liver diseases, and what side is your liver on?

The liver is the biggest internal organ in the human body. It is pinkish-brown or reddish-brown in color, weighs around 3 pounds, is uneven in shape and size, and feels rubbery to touch. It is as big as an ‘American’ football and is primarily located in the upper right part of the abdomen, above the stomach, and below the diaphragm. A tiny part of the liver projects into the upper left section of the abdomen. It is usually not possible to feel the liver from the outside as it is guarded by the rib cage.

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The primary function of the liver is to filter blood passing from the digestive system and then supplying it to other areas of the body. It also metabolizes and detoxifies medications and drugs, and produces proteins essential for blood clotting, etc. During these processes, the liver makes bile which goes to the bowels.

Liver is known as ‘hēpar’ in the Greek language. Hence, most terms associated with the organ commence with the word hepatic. For example, hepatitis, hepatology, hepatoma, etc.

Location of the liver: What side is your liver on?

In layman’s language, the liver can be described as being located just beneath the diaphragm, on the right section of the abdominal cavity. Medically, the organ is said to be situated in the upper right quadrant of the abdominal space.The gallbladder is present directly behind the liver towards the back of the body. Doctors can feel the liver via proper palpation and touching the correct areas just under the rib cage. The location of the liver can thus be described as next to the spleen, stomach, intestines, and kidneys.

The liver consists of 2 big sections known as the left and right lobes. The intestines and some sections of the pancreas are located under the liver. The liver works with these digestive organs to absorb, digest, and process food.

Functions of the liver

Some of the important functions of the liver are listed below:

  • The liver releases varied chemicals that help break down fats and facilitate the digestive processes.
  • The liver plays a major role in conversion of glucose into glycogen as well as in the production of certain amino acids. It thus helps produce energy needed by the body.
  • The liver absorbs many vital vitamins and thus helps produce good cholesterol.
  • Other important liver functions include cleansing of the bloodstream, production of bile, fighting-off disease causing germs, and body detoxification.

Conditions that affect the liver

Some of the diseases that affect the liver are listed below:

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  • Cirrhosis: It is a condition characterized by permanent scarring of the liver due to prolonged damage to the organ, eventually resulting in ineffective liver functions.
  • Hepatitis:It is marked by liver inflammation, generally caused due to infection by the hepatitis A, B, and C viruses. It may also be caused due to alcohol abuse, allergic reactions, drug abuse, and/or obesity.
  • Liver cancer: Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most prevalent kind of primary liver cancer. It almost always develops post occurrence of liver cirrhosis and is often detected in the last stages.
  • Ascites:Cirrhosis can cause leakage of fluids (ascites) into the abdomen, resulting in a heavy and distended belly.
  • Liver failure: It can arise due to a variety of causes such as genetic diseases, untreated infections, and alcoholism.
  • Gallstones:Trapping of a gallstone in the bile duct can drain the liver and cause infection of the bile duct and hepatitis.
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis:It is an uncommon liver disease with no known causes. It causes scarring and inflammation of the bile ducts
  • Hemochromatosis:It causes iron deposits and buildup in the liver and all across the body, thereby causing liver problems and varied ailments.
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis:It is an uncommon disorder with unknown causes. It causes slow destruction of the bile ducts eventually resulting in cirrhosis or permanent liver scarring.
  • Liver cysts:It is marked by formation of abnormal fluid-filled sacs or pouches in the liver. The causes are unknown.
  • Fatty liver disease:It refers to a group of ailments that cause fats accumulation in the liver cells. Fat buildup happens through steatosis and involves liver tissue death as well as liver enlargement. Alcohol abuse can cause alcoholic fatty liver, while use of certain medicines, malnutrition, insulin resistance, toxin ingestion, infections, obesity, glycogen storage disorders, and IBS, etc. can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Liver tests to detect liver diseases

Diagnostic tests to detect liver problems consist of blood tests and imaging tests.

  • Blood tests
    • High Alanine Aminotransferase/ALT as well as Aspartate Aminotransferase/AST levels assist in identification of liver damage or diseases caused due to hepatitis, etc.
    • Elevated alkaline phosphatase levels indicates blockage in the liver bile ducts.
    • Liver function panel verifies the functionality of the liver and comprises of varied blood tests.
    • High bilirubin levels indicate underlying liver problems.
    • High ammonia levels in the blood suggest improper liver function.
    • Albumin, as part of total levels of protein, assist in verifying the working of the liver.
    • Hepatitis A tests include liver function tests and other tests to detect hepatitis A virus antibodies.
    • Hepatitis C tests include blood tests and liver function tests.
    • Hepatitis B tests include antibody level tests for presence of hepatitis B virus infection.
    • PTT/Partial Thromboplastin Time test helps determine blood clotting anomalies.
    • PT/Prothrombin Time test checks if right dosage of warfarin blood thinner is being taken by a patient and the presence of blood clotting problems.
    • Imaging tests
      • An ultrasound of the abdomen can help verify the presence of varied liver conditions like cirrhosis, cancer, gallstone problems, etc.
      • A liver biopsy is performed if an ultrasound or blood tests show an underlying liver abnormality.
      • An abdominal CT scan offers clear pictures of the liver and other organs present in the abdomen.
      • Use of radioactive materials to perform a nuclear scan of the spleen and liver can assists in diagnosis of numerous liver anomalies such as tumors, abscesses, etc.

Liver care

  • Liver diseases can be prevented by avoiding or limiting fatty foods and alcoholism.
  • Vaccinate against hepatitis.
  • Avoid using drugs that can be toxic for the liver and/or scar it. Use prescription medications only in dosage recommended by the doctor.

 

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