Glossary Of Liver Terms

There are many medical terms which are used by those caring for children and young people with liver disease. It can be really helpful to know these terms which may be used during appointments.

Download An Introduction to Liver Disease for full information and diagrams

If you come across a medical term you don’t know you can look up an explanation here.


  • Acute – sudden and severe.
  • Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) – enzymes produced mainly in the liver.
  • Albumin – a protein made by the liver. Controls fluid in the blood and tissues.
  • Alkaline phosphatase (ALP/ALK-PHOS) – an enzyme produced in the bile ducts and elsewhere in the body.
  • Anaemia – a lack of iron can lead to a person having fewer red blood cells than usual. There can also be other causes.
  • Anastomosis – a connection made surgically between two tubes.
  • Angiogram – a scan using x-rays to see blood vessels. It can be used to see the blood vessels which supply the liver.
  • Antibody – a protein which fights infection.
  • Ascites – fluid collecting in the abdomen.
  • Atresia – blocked, destroyed or missing.
  • Autoimmune (autoantibodies) – an immune response against the body’s own tissue.


  • Banding – a treatment for varices. Surgical elastic bands are placed around the varices during an endoscopy.
  • Bile – a green/yellow liquid containing bile salts, bilirubin and cholesterol.
  • Bile acids – acids found in bile which can be converted into bile salts.
  • Biliary tract – the system of tubes which carry bile from the liver and gall bladder and drain into the intestine.
  • Bilirubin – this is a product of the breakdown of old red blood cells. It has a yellow colour which gives stool and blood their colour. Bilirubin travels in the blood stream to the liver where it has a sugar added and becomes conjugated bilirubin. Before this sugar is added it is known as unconjugated bilirubin.
  • Biopsy (liver) – a procedure to take a small sample of the liver to test in the laboratory.
  • Body Mass Index (BMI) – a test using height and weight to measure whether an individual is a healthy weight.


  • Cannula – a short, soft, narrow plastic tube temporarily put into a vein so medicines/fluids/blood etc. can be given intravenously (IV) as needed.
  • Cardiac – refers to the heart.
  • Cardiovascular system – the heart and blood vessels which transport nutrients and oxygen around the body.
  • Carrier – someone who has a gene which can cause a genetic condition but doesn’t have the condition themselves.
  • Cell – basic structural and functional component of all living things.
  • Central venous line (CVL) – a central line is similar to a cannula but is a longer tube used to give medicine, fluid, nutrition or blood directly into a larger vein and can also be used to take blood samples. It is a long, narrow plastic tube which can be placed into a vein in the neck, chest or groin and is used for longer than a cannula. It is usually inserted under a general anaesthetic.
  • Cholangitis – inflammation or infection of bile ducts which can cause poor bile flow from the liver and liver damage.
  • Cholestasis – reduction or blockage of bile flow.
  • Chronic Hepatitis – inflammation of the liver that lasts over a period of time. Liver cells may be destroyed by the inflammation.
  • Chronic – an illness or condition which lasts over a period of time.
  • Cirrhosis – scarring of the liver when liver cells are damaged and destroyed. Scarring can stop blood flowing through the liver properly leading to further damage. The liver becomes smaller, hardens and can’t function properly. Cirrhosis cannot be reversed.
  • Coagulopathy – refers to any condition where the blood cannot clot properly.
  • Computerised tomography scan (CT Scan) – x-rays are used to create a detailed picture of different parts of the body.
  • Congenital – a condition which is present from birth.
  • Cystic – relating to the gall bladder.
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) – a virus belonging to the herpes virus group.


  • Distension – expansion or enlargement.
  • Duct – a tube which fluid can pass through from one part of the body to another, e.g. bile ducts.
  • Dysplasia – the abnormal development of body tissue or an organ.


  • Echocardiogram (Echo) – a scan of the heart using high frequency sound waves, similar to an ultrasound of the abdomen.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) – records the electrical activity of the heart.
  • Encephalopathy – changes in the brain which can be due to liver failure. The build-up of toxins in the blood can lead to tiredness, irritability and personality changes.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – a special x-ray used to examine bile ducts under general anaesthetic.
  • Endoscopy – using a flexible, thin tube with a camera attached to look at the inside of the upper end of the digestive system. It is passed through the mouth and down the oesophagus (food tube).
  • Enteral feeding – feeding through a tube directly into the stomach or part of the intestine.
  • Enzyme – substances in the body which help chemical reactions to take place.
  • Epstein Barr virus (EBV) – a virus which causes glandular fever.


  • Faeces – also known as stool or poo.
  • Fibrosis – scar tissue which replaces normal tissue which, when extensive, is known as cirrhosis.
  • Full blood count (FBC) – a blood test measuring all of the different types of cells in the blood.
  • Fulminant – a severe, sudden form of liver failure. More commonly known as acute liver failure.


  • Gallbladder – a small sac which stores and releases bile made by the liver.
  • Gallstones – the stones which can be formed by bile and collect in the gall bladder and bile ducts. They can cause pain and may pass into the common bile duct and cause cholangitis or obstructive jaundice.
  • Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase (also known as Gamma
  • Glutamyltranspeptidase (Gamma GT (GGT)) – an enzyme produced mostly by the bile ducts.
  • Gastroenterology – study of the digestive system.
  • General anaesthetic – an individual is put into a state of controlled unconsciousness.
  • Genes – genes are made up of DNA and provide instructions for the body.
  • Graft – an organ, tissue or cells used for transplantation.


  • Haematemesis – vomiting (sickness) blood.
  • Haemoglobin – part of a red blood cell which carries oxygen around the body.
  • Hepatic – referring to the liver.
  • Hepatic artery – the blood vessel which brings blood with oxygen to the liver.
  • Hepatic vein – the blood vessel which takes blood away from the liver.
  • Hepatitis – inflammation of the liver.
  • Hepatology – study of the liver.
  • Hepatomegaly – enlargement of the liver.
  • Hypo/hypertension – low/high blood pressure.


  • Idiopathic – something which doesn’t have a known cause.
  • Immune system – the body’s defence which fights against foreign substances in the body such as bacteria and viruses.
  • Immunity – protection against a particular disease. This can happen naturally or due to vaccination.
  • Immunoglobulin – a protein which plays a role in the immune system.
  • Immunosuppression – medications which can be taken which make the immune system less active.
  • Incidence – the number of new cases of a disease over a certain period of time in a set population.
  • International normalised ratio (INR) – a measure of how well blood clots.
  • Intravenous – into the vein. Some drugs are delivered straight into the veins.


Jaundice – a high level of bilirubin in the blood leading to the yellowing of the skin and/or the whites of the eyes.


Kasai portoenterostomy – an operation to get bile flowing from the liver to the intestine in biliary atresia. Bile ducts are removed and a piece of intestine is used to replace the ducts.


  • Liver function tests (LFT) – blood tests which can show how well the liver is working.
  • Liver transplant – an operation to replace a damaged liver with a donor liver.
    • Auxiliary liver transplant – where part of a donor liver is placed alongside the child’s own liver.
    • Orthotopic liver transplant – where the child’s liver is replaced by all of part of a donor liver.
  • Lymph – a clear, watery liquid derived from body tissues which carries white blood cells and fats. It travels through the lymphatic system of the body.


  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a detailed scan of the body using magnets rather than x-ray.
  • Malabsorption – the body doesn’t absorb nutrients properly when we eat them.
  • Metabolism – the processes in the body which break down and build up different chemicals.
  • Metabolic disorder – a condition in which metabolism is affected.


  • Nasogastric (NG) feeding – giving food through a tube which goes through the nose and down the throat to the stomach.
  • Nasogastric tube – the tube used during NG feeding above.
  • Nasojejunal (NJ) tube – a small tube that is passed up the nose and down the throat, through the stomach, and into the small intestine used for feeding.


Oedema – also known as fluid retention, fluid builds up in the tissues affected.


  • Parenteral nutrition (PN) – feeding nutrients directly into the vein when an individual cannot eat normally.
  • Percutaneous Transhepatic Cholangiography (PTC) – a special x-ray which looks at the bile ducts. It is done under a general anaesthetic using a needle which is inserted through the skin of the abdomen into the bile ducts. It can be used to diagnose and treat a variety of bile duct issues.
  • Phlebotomist – a person who takes blood samples.
  • Platelets – part of the blood and important for clotting the blood. They can be low in people with liver disease.
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) – a test which checks if a virus is present in the blood. A positive result means the virus is present.
  • Portal Hypertension – high blood pressure in the portal vein which may occur due to scarring of the liver or a blockage of the portal vein.
  • Portal Vein – main vein carrying blood from the intestine to the liver.
  • Pruritus – itching of the skin.
  • Pulmonary – refers to the lungs.


  • Rejection – when the body’s immune system attacks a transplanted organ. It can be acute (sudden) or chronic (over a period of time).
  • Renal – refers to the kidneys.
  • Respiratory – refers to breathing.


  • Sclerotherapy – a treatment for varices where a solution is injected into them during an endoscopy.
  • Screening – testing for a condition or the genes for a condition.
  • Spider Naevi – small, broken veins under the skin which can look like red spiders.
  • Spleen – an organ which removes old blood cells. Its blood supply is connected to the liver.
  • Splenomegaly – an enlarged spleen.
  • Split bilirubin test – a blood test which measures how much conjugated and unconjugated bilirubin is in the blood. See ‘bilirubin’ for more information.
  • Steroids – medication which reduces the activity of the body’s immune system.


  • Thrombosis – a blood clot in a vein or artery.
  • TPR – an abbreviation for temperature, pulse and respiration.
  • Triglycerides – a type of fat.
  • TTA and TTO – abbreviation for ‘to take away’ or ‘to take out’ referring to medicines which are taken home.


  • Ultrasound scan (USS) – a scan which takes pictures of organs and blood vessels inside the body.
  • Urea and electrolytes – may be called ‘U & E’s or kidney function tests. They are monitored to see how well the kidneys are working.


  • Varices – veins in the lining of the intestine, oesophagus and stomach which can be enlarged and swollen due to portal hypertension and can bleed if not treated.
  • Viral load – a viral load test is a lab test that measures the number of virus particles in a millilitre of blood.


Xanthomas – cholesterol deposited under the skin which can look like pale warts.