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Anatomy and Function of the LiverAnatomía y la Función del Hígado

Anatomy and Function of the Liver

Anatomy of the liver

The liver is located in the upper right-hand portion of the abdominal cavity, beneath the diaphragm and on top of the stomach, right kidney, and intestines. The liver, a dark reddish-brown organ, has multiple functions.

Illustration of  the anatomy of the digestive system, adult
Click Image to Enlarge

There are two distinct sources that supply blood to the liver:

  • Oxygenated blood flows in from the hepatic artery.

  • Nutrient-rich blood flows in from the hepatic portal vein.

The liver consists of two main lobes, both of which are made up of 8 segments. The segments are made up of a thousand lobules. The lobules are connected to small ducts that connect with larger ducts to ultimately form the common hepatic duct. The common hepatic duct transports bile produced by the liver cells to the gallbladder and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).

What are the functions of the liver?

The liver regulates most chemical levels in the blood and excretes a product called bile. Bile helps to break down fats, preparing them for further digestion and absorption. All of the blood leaving the stomach and intestines passes through the liver. The liver processes this blood and breaks down, balances, and creates nutrients for the body to use. It also metabolized drugs in the blood into forms that are easier for the body to use.  Many vital functions have been identified with the liver. Some of the more well-known functions include the following:

  • Production of bile, which helps carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion

  • Production of certain proteins for blood plasma

  • Production of cholesterol and special proteins to help carry fats through the body

  • Store and release glucose as needed

  • Processing of hemoglobin for use of its iron content (the liver stores iron)

  • Conversion of harmful ammonia to urea (urea is one of the end products of protein metabolism that is excreted in the urine)

  • Clearing the blood of drugs and other harmful substances

  • Regulating blood clotting

  • Resisting infections by producing immune factors and removing bacteria from the bloodstream

  • Clearance of bilirubin (if there is a buildup of bilirubin, the skin and eyes turn yellow)

When the liver has broken down harmful substances, they are excreted into the bile or blood. Bile by-products enter the intestine and ultimately leave the body in the feces. Blood by-products are filtered out by the kidneys and leave the body in the form of urine.

 
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