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Diseases & Conditions

Liver Disease

Patient Information

This website contains information for patients who may be in need of surgical treatment for liver disease. This information is designed to help you decide whether or not treatment at Cleveland Clinic's Department of Surgery can help you. If so, contact us for an appointment.

The liver is the body's most complex organ, performing many essential tasks related to the conversion of food to energy (metabolism).

Carbohydrates, fats and proteins from food are transported to the liver from the digestive organs through the portal vein. Nutrients pass into the smaller branches of the portal vein, and seep through the blood vessel walls and into the liver cells. The cells are tiny manufacturing sites where these materials are used to make essential body-building blocks such as bile, cholesterol, immune factors, plasma proteins and albumin.

Through a specialized filtering system, the liver performs the important task of removing toxins and impurities (such as alcohol, drugs and preservatives) from the blood. The liver is also an important site for converting food to energy and storing it as glycogen. Fat-soluable vitamins such as D and E are also stored in the liver.

When liver disease develops, the liver's ability to perform its metabolic, detoxification and storage functions is impaired. When these essential processes are not working as they should, the entire body is affected.

Terms to Help You Understand Liver Disease

Ascites - accumulation of fluid in the abdomen.

Endoscopy - a nonsurgical procedure in which a slim, lighted scope with a camera attached is passed down the throat to aid in diagnosis or treatment.

Jaundice - yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.

Tumor - an abnormal growth of cells which can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Varices - abnormally dilated and lengthened veins.

Shunt - a joining between two veins to reduce pressure and stop bleeding varices.

Common Liver Diseases

More than 100 types of liver disease have been identified. Their common feature is that they all involve damage to the liver that disturbs its ability to function normally. 

Early liver disease may have minimal or no symptoms and often will be passed over as being the flu. As liver disease progresses, characteristic signs develop.

These signs can include a yellow tone to the skin and whites of eyes (jaundice) and brownish urine. In advanced cirrhosis, the abdomen becomes distended with fluid (ascites) and ruptured blood vessels in the stomach and esophagus cause bleeding. The person may vomit blood or pass black stools.

If you have any additional questions, please see our frequently asked questions page.

Please address all inquiries to:
Phone: 216.444.7000 or toll-free 1.800.223.2273, ext. 47000.
Fax: 216.444.4242

Mailing Address:
HPB Center
Department of General Surgery, Desk A-80
Cleveland Clinic Foundation
9500 Euclid Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44195

Patient Appointments are at:
General Surgery, Desk A-80
Cleveland Clinic Foundation
9500 Euclid Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44195

Additional Resources