what does the liver do

Your liver is your body’s largest internal organ. 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, you will learn about the importance of the human liver and how to prevent the most common types of liver disease.

What Is the Liver?

The liver is a brown, spongy, wedge-shaped organ on the right side of the lower abdomen. It is about the size of a football, but its size varies based on your weight and height. The liver is also considered a gland because it makes chemicals the body needs to function properly.

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What Is the Function of the Liver?

The liver is an active organ that sustains many of our most vital life functions. The liver is responsible for:

  • Production and excretion of bile, a stomach fluid.
  • Excretion of bilirubin, cholesterol, hormones, and drugs.
  • Metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
  • Activation of enzymes.
  • Storage of glycogen, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Synthesis of plasma proteins, such as albumin, and clotting factors.
  • Detoxification and purification of blood.

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.

In addition, the liver is the 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 both your liver and the recipient’s liver will grow to near full-size again and regain its full function.

Symptoms of Liver Disease

Liver disease will not always cause noticeable effects. Call your health care provider if you have any combination of the following symptoms, as they may be indications of a liver problem:

  • 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 tiredness.
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Decrease or loss of appetite.
  • Bruising easily.

Types of Liver Disease

As one of the major organs in your body, the liver can be affected by many illnesses and conditions 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 properly.

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

Treatment for Liver Disease

When caught early, some forms of liver disease can be treated with lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, cutting alcohol from the diet, and close monitoring of liver functions. If you have a more serious case, you might be treated with medications. If your liver disease causes liver failure, you may need to consider a liver transplant.

Liver Transplant

Although treatment may be available for liver disease, if the damage is too severe a liver transplant may be needed. Your health care provider 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.

The surgery involves removing the failing liver and replacing it with a healthy liver from a deceased donor or a portion of a healthy liver from a living donor.

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 833-514-5999 or visit the UPMC Transplant Services website.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Transplant Services

For more than four decades, UPMC Transplant Services has been a leader in organ transplantation. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, making UPMC one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and take on some of the most challenging cases. Through research, we have developed new therapies that provide our patients better outcomes — so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions. Above all, we are committed to providing compassionate, complete care that can change – and save – our patients’ lives. Visit our website to find a provider near you.