A hepatologist is a liver doctor, which is a big job. In order to treat liver disease, a hepatologist has to know about all the organs in your biliary tract. That means they’ll treat you for bile duct diseases, as well. Some hepatologists specialize in end-stage liver disease and liver transplantation.

What is a liver doctor called?

A liver doctor is called a hepatologist. “Hepato” means “liver,” and “-ologist” is someone who specializes in something. A hepatologist is a specialist in liver disease and conditions affecting your biliary tract.


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What organs does a hepatologist treat?

Most people see a hepatologist to diagnose and treat liver conditions, especially chronic liver disease and its complications. But there’s some crossover between liver disease and diseases in other organs.

Your liver belongs to your biliary tract, a system of organs connected by bile ducts, which also includes your gallbladder and pancreas. Because they’re connected, disease in one organ can involve the others.

Is a hepatologist the same thing as a gastroenterologist?

A hepatologist is a gastroenterologist who chooses to focus their training on the study of liver diseases. So, all hepatologists are gastroenterologists, but not all gastroenterologists become hepatologists.

Hepatology is a subspecialty of gastroenterology, which studies all the organs in your digestive system, including your liver. Gastroenterologists also treat liver disease, but hepatologists specialize in it.


Is a hepatologist also a gallbladder doctor and a pancreas doctor?

You can ask a hepatologist about your gallbladder or pancreas. They’re trained in gallbladder and pancreas matters, but they mostly focus on the liver.

It’s more common to see a gastroenterologist about your gallbladder or pancreas. You could also see a pancreatologist about your pancreas, but they aren’t very common.

Why would my doctor send me to a hepatologist?

Your primary care physician (PCP) might refer you to a hepatologist if they suspect you have liver disease. They might suspect it if you take a blood panel, and your liver function tests show abnormal results.

Sometimes, a gastroenterologist who’s previously treated you for liver disease might refer you to a hepatologist. They might do this if they feel that your condition requires a hepatologist’s expertise.

What conditions does a hepatologist treat?

Your provider might refer you to a hepatologist to diagnose and treat:

Liver diseases, including:

Biliary tract diseases, including:


What is a transplant hepatologist?

Transplant hepatology is a separate board certification that a gastroenterologist can pursue. It focuses on the treatment of end-stage liver disease and its complications, before and after liver transplantation.

Transplant hepatologists work in medical centers where liver transplants happen. They learn how to recognize when a transplant is your best option, and how to take care of you through the process.

What kinds of complications does a transplant hepatologist manage?

In the end stages of liver disease, your healthcare needs become more complicated. Transplant hepatologists train for these needs. They might manage a long list of potential side effects, including:

After a successful liver transplant, you’ll have new complications for your hepatologist to watch for and manage, due to the immunosuppressant medications you’ll be taking. These complications can include:

How do you become a hepatologist?

You can choose to specialize in hepatology after completing the qualifications to practice general medicine. That means completing a four-year medical degree and a three-year residency program.

Hepatologists complete an additional three-year fellowship program in gastroenterology, which includes the study of hepatology. They might spend a significant portion of this training on hepatology.

Some hepatologists become certified as gastroenterologists first and then complete an additional fellowship program focused on hepatology. Fellowships typically last one or two years.

Others choose to become certified transplant hepatologists. To do this, they complete an accredited one-year training program for gastroenterologists. Then they pass an exam to become certified.

What is a pediatric hepatologist?

A pediatric hepatologist is a pediatrician who completes extra training in gastroenterology and hepatology. They treat infants, children and teens with gastrointestinal (GI), liver and biliary diseases.

A pediatric hepatologist begins with a medical degree and a three-year residency program in general pediatric medicine. Then they complete a three-year pediatric gastroenterology residency program.

A pediatric gastroenterologist might choose to specialize in hepatology during their residency, or they might complete a fellowship in hepatology afterward to become a pediatric hepatologist.

A pediatric gastroenterologist can also pursue a certification in pediatric transplant hepatology. Pediatric transplant hepatologists are specially equipped to treat children with liver failure and liver cancer.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your liver plays a large and central role in your body and overall health, both literally and figuratively. Many things can affect it, and when it’s sick, it can affect many different organs and body systems.

This makes treating liver disease a bit of a juggling act. The training it requires is both broad and deep. There’s also a lot of emotional labor involved. The reward is that hepatologists save a lot of lives.

Care at Cleveland Clinic
Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 10/12/2023.

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