About the Liver

There are over 100 different liver conditions which can affect children. Here you can find up to date and reliable information about the basics of liver disease in children including what the liver is, what it does, what problems might affect it and key medical terms.

*This website provides general information but does not replace medical advice. It is important to contact your/your child’s medical team if you have any worries or concerns
Download An Introduction to Liver Disease leaflet for full information and diagrams

What is the liver?

The liver is a large organ found at the top of the abdomen (tummy area) on the right side. It is made up of cells; blood vessels and bile ducts.

The main cells in the liver are known as hepatocytes.

The liver is made up two main parts: the right lobe and the left lobe. The right lobe is large, whilst the left lobe is smaller.

What does the liver do?

The liver is a complex organ. It has lots of different functions which are essential to live healthily.

The liver filters blood - it receives blood from two sources:
1. From the heart (via the hepatic artery)
2. From the intestine (via the portal vein)

The liver has an important role in the digestive system:
The liver processes and stores nutrients from the blood to allow the body to use them. The blood entering the liver from the intestine contains fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and other nutrients. Carbohydrates are broken down into sugars which provide energy. Any extra nutrients not needed straight away are stored in the liver for future use. These nutrients include glycogen (sugar), minerals like iron and vitamins such as vitamin A, B, D and K.

The liver makes lots of different substances that the body needs including:
- Blood plasma proteins such as albumin. Albumin controls how much fluid is in each part of the body.
- Clotting factors which help to stop bleeding
- Cholesterol
- Vitamin D
- Immune factors which help to fight infection
- Some hormones
- Bile - The liver produces bile which is a green/yellow liquid. Bile is formed from bilirubin, which comes from old red blood cells which have been broken down in the spleen. Bile helps the body to digest food by breaking fats down so they can be absorbed and enables the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Bile also helps the body get rid of waste products such as bilirubin and excess cholesterol which it passes out into the stool (poo).
After bile has been produced by the liver it is transported to the gall bladder where it is stored. When food is eaten the gall bladder releases bile through bile ducts into the small intestine to help with digestion and remove waste products.

The liver processes waste products:
The liver gets ride of waste such as the breakdown products of old red blood cells, ammonia (which comes from proteins), medicines and drugs.

What problems can affect the liver?

Problems which can affect the liver include:

- The bile flow out of the liver may be blocked

- An infection/virus – this can cause inflammation or swelling

- Metabolic diseases – problems with the way the cells make energy

- Drugs and poisons

- Poor blood supply

- Sometimes the cause is unknown – these are known as idiopathic or cryptogenic