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.
Liver Disease at Cleveland Clinic's Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute
Cleveland Clinic hepatologists specialize in liver disease. They treat a wide range of common and uncommon diseases of the liver and biliary tract including:
- Chronic viral infections of the liver (hepatitis B link and C link)
- Alcoholic liver disease
- Autoimmune liver diseases
- Acute viral hepatitis
- Fatty liver associated with obesity and diabetes
- Inherited disorders (hemochromatosis link, Wilson’s disease and alpha-1- antitrypsin deficiency)
- Primary biliary cirrhosis (diseases of the bile ducts inside and outside of the liver)
- Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis
Cleveland Clinic specialists were among the first in the United States to investigate the use of interferon for chronic viral hepatitis. Their research remains at the forefront of antiviral therapy advances today as they investigate many new and experimental treatments.
Some of these therapies are available for patients participating in clinical trials.
Cleveland Clinic hepatologists also are well-versed in new innovative and comprehensive therapies for any stage of liver disease including all complications of cirrhosis. As a result, Cleveland Clinic is a regional center for referral of patients dealing with cirrhosis and its complications.
To help patients, Cleveland Clinic physicians:
- Are prepared to receive and evaluate patients with severe liver failure, readying them for liver transplants if necessary.
- Use sophisticated monitoring equipment to improve patient survival in the interim before transplant, particularly in patients with significant tendencies to bleed.
- Collaborate as surgeons work with hepatologists to offer Ohio’s largest volume of liver transplants, including deceased donor and living donor transplantation.
Fighting Liver Disease
Medical, surgical and radiological specialists cooperate closely to diagnose and treat all types of liver disease and disorders, including liver masses.
Cleveland Clinic surgeons have extensive experience with relatively uncommon hepatobiliary procedures including:
- Resection of biliary tract cancer
- Resection of liver cancer
- Ablation of liver cancers using a radio frequency probe
Cleveland Clinic radiologists offer a sophisticated array of diagnostic and therapeutic options for liver disease. They offer a transjugular intrahepatic portal systemic shunt (TIPS), which is a procedure in which a stent (a tubular device) is placed in the middle of the liver to relieve the pressure in the portal vein. They also employ an approach to treating liver cancers called chemoembolization.
- Drug Hepatotoxicity
- Fatty liver (NAFLD and NASH)
- Fulminant Hepatic Failure
- Hepatic Cysts (Simple Cysts and Polycystic Liver Disease)
- Ischemic Liver Injury
- Liver Cysts and Tumors
- Malignant Hepatic Lesions
- Non Alcoholic Steatotic Hepatitis
- Portal Hypertension
- Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
- Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis
- Spontaneous Bacterial Peritonitis
- Viral Hepatitis A
- Viral Hepatitis B
- Viral Hepatitis C
- Viral Hepatitis D
- Viral Hepatitis E
For more information about liver disease, please contact:
American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases
1729 King Street, Suite 200
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
American Liver Foundation (ALF)
75 Maiden Lane, Suite 603
New York, NY 10038.4810
Ph.: 800.GO.LIVER (465.4837)
Hepatitis Foundation International
504 Blick Drive
Silver Spring, MD 20904.2901
Ph.: 800.891.0707 or 301 622.4200
United Network for Organ Sharing
P.O. Box 2484
Richmond, VA 23218
Ph.: 888.894.6361 or 804.782.4800
National Institutes of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases(NIDDK)
NIH, Building 31, Room 9A04
31 Center Drive, MSC 2560
Bethesda, MD 20892.2560
American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
1520 Kensington Rd., Suite 202
Oak Brook, IL 60523