Fast facts about the liver1

Your liver is a large organ in your body and one of the most important. It sits beneath your ribs on the right side and is about the size of a football (see figure 1). It weighs an impressive 1.4 kilograms (3 pounds) in an adult. The liver is divided into two parts: the right and left hepatic lobes (hepatic is the medical word that describes everything that relates to your liver).

The many jobs of the liver1

Your liver is a complex organ and has a huge variety of jobs to do. Five of the most important jobs are processing food to create energy, storing energy for later use, fighting infection, filtering the blood, and making hormones and proteins. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

  • The liver works with neighbouring organs (gallbladder, pancreas and intestines) to digest and absorb your food. Every day your liver produces about a litre of a substance called bile, which is designed to break down and dissolve fats.
  • The liver is an important storage unit, storing sugar and fat so they are available to create energy when needed. • Crucially, the liver fights infection in your body – clearing the blood of harmful particles and bacteria.
  • A vital job for your liver is filtering your blood, ensuring that nutrients and useful chemicals are delivered to the right place in your body, but removing harmful substances (like drugs or toxins) from your blood.
  • The liver makes hormones and some other important proteins, like those that are needed for blood clotting to help heal wounds.

As well as managing all of these jobs at once, the liver is among the few of our organs that has the ability to regenerate.

How is the liver affected by Gaucher disease?2

The liver may be affected by Gaucher disease, which can cause it to stop working properly and to get bigger. Your doctor might use the word hepatomegaly to explain your liver growing in size and causing your stomach to become tender and painful. In a similar way, your spleen can also grow bigger (at the same time as the liver), and you might hear this called hepatosplenomegaly – enlarged spleen and liver.

References

1. Anatomy and Physiology. OpenStax at Rice University. Published 25 April 2013. ISBN-13: 978-1-947172-04-3. Available at https://openstax.org/details/anatomy-and-physiology. Accessed September 2019

2. Cappellini MD et al. European Oncology & Haematology. 2018;14:50–56.