Your Liver and Liver Disease
The Liver and Its Location
Weighing about 4 pounds (2 kg), the liver is your largest internal organ. It is located on your right side, just beneath your lower ribs. The liver has four lobes that contain liver cells (hepatocytes), passageways for blood (sinusoids), bile (bile ducts), the immune system (lymphatics), and other specialized cells. A large blood vessel—the portal vein—delivers nutrient-rich blood directly to the liver from the small intestine. The portal vein delivers 75% of the liver’s blood supply.
The Function of the Liver in Health and Disease
The liver’s main job is to filter blood from the digestive tract before it passes to the rest of the body. Other important functions of the liver include:
- Clearing the body of toxins and drugs
- Making proteins, including albumin; some of which help your blood to clot
- Making hormones involved in the regulation of growth, blood pressure and iron levels
- Storing energy as a special form of sugar (glycogen) that can be used by the rest of the body
- Storing certain vitamins, such as vitamins B12, A, D and K
- As the liver fails, its functions become less efficient. Consequently, liver disease can impact all body systems including blood clotting, hormone and sugar regulation, your immune system, thinking, and fluid balance.
Medications and Alcohol
If you have liver disease you should not drink alcohol (less is better, none is the best). Pain relievers such as Tylenol™ (acetaminophen) is safe if you take less than six 325 mg tablets each day (2 gms). Ibuprofen is safe if you have no ulcers, cirrhosis and normal kidneys. Do not use nasal decongestants/antihistamines such as terfenidine(Seldane) and astimazole (Hismanal) if cirrhosis is present. Patients who are taking the medications: 1) Isoniazid, 2) Voltaren, 3) valproic acid or 4) Flutamide must undergo liver enzyme testing at 1 and 3 months of therapy.
Patients with liver disease should monitor their diet, especially if cirrhosis is present. If you do not have cirrhosis, a low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium diet is advised. Patients should watch their diet to maintain an ideal body weight (overweight patients have too much fat in their liver and may develop liver damage from fat.
If you have cirrhosis, an 80-100-gram protein diet is advised, with most protein coming from vegetable sources such as soybeans or beans; white meat (fish or chicken). Red meat should be avoided. Five meals per day are recommended, with an emphasis on complex carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes, pasta and bread.
Because patients with liver disease are at increased risk of acquiring infections and having a more severe disease if infection occurs, it is necessary to discuss the need for vaccines with your doctors. Inquire about vaccination for hepatitis B, hepatitis A and pneumonia.
About California Pacific Medical Center
California Pacific Medical Center, part of the Sutter Health NetworkOpens new window, offers kidney, pancreas, liver and heart transplantation as part of our Barry S. Levin, MD Department of Transplant.
San Francisco Center for Liver Disease
California Pacific Medical Center
2340 Clay Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
Referral Line: 415-600-3742 (for self-referrals or physician referrals)