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Liver Disease Symptoms, Signs, and Treatments

What Is Liver Function?

  • The liver is the largest solid organ in the body, weighing on average about 3.5 pounds.
  • The liver carries out a large number of critical functions, including manufacture of essential proteins, and metabolism of fats and carbohydrates.
  • The liver also serves to eliminate harmful biochemical waste products and detoxify alcohol, certain drugs, and environmental toxins.
  • The liver forms and secretes bile that contains bile acids to aid in the digestion and intestinal absorption of fats and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  • Diseases that may affect the liver include hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), cirrhosis (scarring), fatty liver, and liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma).
  • Symptoms of liver disease may include:

Liver Overview

The liver is the largest solid organ in the body. People may not know that the liver is also the largest gland in the body. The liver is actually two different types of gland. It is a secretory gland because it has a specialized structure that is designed to allow it to make and secrete bile into the bile ducts. It also is an endocrine gland since it makes and secretes chemicals directly into the blood that have effects on other organs in the body. Bile is a fluid that both aids in digestion and absorption of fats as well as carries waste products into the intestine.

What Is the Size of the Liver?

The liver weighs about three and a half pounds (1.6 kilograms). It measures on average, about 8 inches (20 cm) horizontally (across), and 6.5 inches (17 cm) vertically (down), and is 4.5 inches (12 cm) thick.

Liver Location and Anatomy

The liver is located just below the diaphragm (the muscular membrane separating the chest from the abdomen), primarily in the upper right part of the abdomen, mostly under the ribs. However, it also extends across the middle of the upper abdomen and part way into the left upper abdomen. An irregularly shaped, dome-like solid structure, the liver consists of two main parts (a larger right lobe and a smaller left lobe) and two minor lobes. As you can see in the diagram below, the upper border of the right lobe is at the level of the top of the 5th rib (a little less than 1/2 inch below the nipple), and the upper border of the left lobe is just below the 5th rib (about 3/4 inch below the nipple). During inspiration (breathing in), the liver is pushed down by the diaphragm and the lower edge of the liver descends below the margin of the lowest rib (costal margin).

Picture of the liver and where it is located in the abdomen
Picture of the liver and where it is located in the abdomen

Last Reviewed 8/30/2017

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Fatty Liver Disease

What Causes Fatty Liver Disease?

Fatty liver can be classified as alcohol and nonalcohol related. Alcohol is a direct toxin to the liver and can cause inflammation. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic related steatohepatitis (NASH) are markedly different illnesses and there are many potential causes that are linked to fat accumulation in the liver.

Some of the causes of fatty liver include:

  • Diet: Consumption of excess calories in the diet (the excess caloric intake overwhelms the liver's ability to metabolize fat in a normal fashion, which results in fat accumulation in the liver).
  • Diseases: Fatty liver is also associated with type II diabetes, obesity, and high triglyceride levels in the blood, celiac disease, and Wilson's disease (abnormality of copper metabolism).
  • Medical conditions: Rapid weight loss and malnutrition.
  • Medications: Medications such as tamoxifen (Soltamox), amiodarone injection (Nestorone), amiodarone oral (Cordarone, Pacerone), and methotrexate (Rheumatrex Dose Pack, Trexall) are associated with NAFLD.


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