Merck Manual

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Quick Facts



The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision May 2020
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Topic Resources

What is the liver?

Your liver is a football-sized organ on the right side of your belly, just below your diaphragm and protected by your lower right ribs. It's the largest organ in your body.

  • The liver helps you digest food and makes substances your body needs

  • The liver is involved in many different processes in your body

  • Drinking too much alcohol for a long time can damage the liver

Locating the Liver

What does the liver do?

The liver is like your body's chemical factory. It makes many important substances including:

  • Bile, a digestive fluid that breaks down fats

  • Proteins that help your blood clot

  • Cholesterol, which your body needs to make certain hormones

Other things the liver does include:

  • Storing sugar to release when your body suddenly needs extra energy

  • Breaking down drugs, poisons, and other substances so your body can get rid of them

What is bile?

Bile is a thick greenish-yellow digestive fluid made in your liver. Bile flows through tubes in your liver called bile ducts. Then bile flows out of your liver through a large bile duct. Bile can go directly into your intestines or into your gallbladder to be stored until needed.

Bile in your intestines helps you absorb the fats that you eat.

What can go wrong with the liver?

Problems with your liver include:

Cirrhosis is permanent, but often you have enough healthy liver tissue to keep doing the liver's work. Severe cirrhosis can cause:

  • High blood pressure within the liver, called portal hypertension

Many things that damage your liver interfere with how it makes and delivers bile. Problems making and delivering bile can cause your skin and eyes to turn yellow (jaundice) because you have too much of a yellow chemical called bilirubin, which your body uses to make bile.

If your liver is badly damaged, you may need a liver transplant.

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Biology of the Liver and Gallbladder
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Polyglandular deficiency syndromes are hereditary disorders in which several endocrine glands (ie, glands that secrete hormones) malfunction together. Which of the following is the most appropriate treatment for these types of disorders? 
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