The liver is the largest of the body's organs. It lies in the upper right side of the abdomen, with most of it protected by the ribs.
It weighs about 3 pounds (1.5 kilogrammes), making it the largest organ in the body. It pulses continuously as 1 1/2 litres (2 1/2 pints) of blood pass through it every minute. There are reservoirs of blood in the liver called venous sinuses which can hold up to 3 1/2 litres (6 pints) for boosting blood volume in emergencies.
The liver is a 24 hour chemical plant responsible for the production, storage, metabolism and distribution of a multitude of nutrients essential to a healthy body. It takes in waste products, converts some of them into useable elements and excretes those which are harmful. At the same time the liver produces Vitamin A and stores Vitamins A, D and B12. A chemical company would require a plant covering several acres to perform its simpler tasks. The more complicated ones it could not do at all.
The function of the liver
The liver has a number of functions, including:
- the production of essential substances such as glucose and proteins for the rest of the body
- the production of important factors to help clot the blood
- the removal of toxic substances from the blood
- the breakdown of fats and other substances
The results of liver dysfunction
If the liver is not working properly, this may not be apparent at first. The liver is a very uncomplaining organ, however signs of poor liver function include:
- jaundice (yellowing of the skin) if pigments are not properly cleared from the blood
- swelling of the ankles or abdomen if insufficient proteins are being made
- prolonged bleeding if insufficient clotting factors are being made
At the moment there are no 'liver machines' like there are artificial kidneys. If the liver fails completely or becomes very seriously damaged the only solution is a liver transplant. However, research teams are working to develop a first artificial liver.