liver

What Does the Liver Do for the Body?

Your liver is your body’s largest internal organ. It sits under your rib cage on the right side of your body. This vital organ supports every other organ in your body and has multiple functions that support your overall health. In fact, this organ is so important that you could only survive one or two days if it shut down.

So, what does the liver do? In the following sections, we’ll discuss the importance of the human liver and how to prevent the most common types of liver disease.

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Where In the Body Is the Liver?

The liver sits under your rib cage on the right side of your body. It spans across the mid-line and is protected by the lower ribs.

Why Is the Liver So Important?

Split into two sections, the right and left lobes, the liver’s main function is to filter the blood that comes from your digestive tract before passing it along to the rest of your body. It is responsible for more than 500 important functions that include:

  • Helping your blood clot
  • Breaking down alcohol, chemicals, and other drugs
  • Making glucose, a sugar that your body can use for a quick burst of energy

At any given time your liver contains about 10 percent of your body’s total blood volume, and it filters 1.4 liters of blood per minute.

Your liver is your only organ that can regenerate, or regrow, itself. The human liver has the greatest regenerative capacity of any of the organs within the body. As a result, you can donate part of your liver to someone else, and have both your liver and the recipient’s liver grow to near full size again, regaining its function.

Symptoms of Liver Disease

See a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms, as they may be indications of liver problems:

  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Swelling of the legs or ankles
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark colored urine
  • Pale, bloody, or tar-colored stool
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting, diarrhea
  • Decrease or loss of appetite
  • Bruising easily

Types of Liver Disease

As one of the major organs in your body, your liver can suffer many types of liver problems that can harm your overall health if not treated. One of the most common types of liver conditions is cirrhosis, which happens when your liver becomes scarred, and cannot work in a normal way.

Other types of liver disease that can affect normal liver function include:

Treatment for Liver Disease

Depending on your diagnosis there may be treatment options, such as lifestyle changes (losing weight or cutting out alcohol), medication, or surgery.

Liver Transplant

Although treatment may be available for liver disease, if the damage is too severe you may need a liver transplant. Your doctor will refer you to a transplant center for a thorough evaluation of your condition, which includes a series of tests and assessments by a team of experts. If deemed necessary, you will be placed on the national transplant waiting list.

While a liver transplant is a major surgery that has risks, many people go on to live full, active lives after a transplant. Your transplant team will talk with you about what to expect before and after your surgery, and for ongoing follow-up care. UPMC has one of the oldest and largest liver transplant programs in the United States. For more information or to make an appointment please call 412-647-5800 or visit the UPMC Transplant Services website.