Liver and Gall Bladder Disorders

The hepatobiliary system refers to the liver, gall bladder and bile ducts – organs that are involved with the production, storage, transport and release of bile, a secretion that prepared fats for further digestion.

 There are numerous conditions that can harm the hepatobiliary system, some of which are life-threatening. Liver damage can occur from a variety of sources: infections with viruses (hepatitis A, B, and C viruses), exposure to toxic drugs or chemicals, excessive use of alcohol, genetic disorders , diabetes, heart failure, cancer and shock. Some of the signs and symptoms of liver disease include:

  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eye)
  • pruritus (itching)
  • dark, tea-colored urine
  • weight loss
  • muscle wasting
  • ascites (swelling of the abdomen with fluid)
  • fatigue
  • easy bruising and bleeding (bleeding gums or frequent nosebleeds)
  • vomiting blood
  • blood in the stool (bright red blood or black, tar-like stool)
  • mental confusion

In many cases, the liver is able to repair itself; in others, a variety of treatments may be effective. However, if liver damage is severe, the organ may not recover, resulting in liver failure which is life threatening.

The most common diseases are:

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Heavy drinking over a long period of time can take its toll on the liver by causing cirrhosis. Before the onset of cirrhosis the liver sometimes may accumulate an excessive amount of fat (known as fatty liver disease), which interferes with its proper functioning.


Inflammation of the liver is called hepatitis. Inflammation (or soreness) of the liver can be traced to many different causes, including viral infections, alcohol, fat accumulation in the liver, an incorrectly functioning immune system, exposure to chemicals and other toxins, and certain drugs.

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 Fatty liver and Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis

In this condition an excessive amount of fat accumulates in the liver due to a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are excess weight, diabetes, excessive use of alcohol and hepatitis C. Because of the rapid rise in obesity in America, including among children, the number of individuals with fatty liver is rapidly rising. Most patients with fatty liver related to obesity or diabetes retain normal liver function and do not experience any problems during their lifetime. However, in some patients the excess fat causes inflammation in the liver known as Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH, as the condition sometimes is called. The damage is similar to that which occurs with alcoholic liver disease, but with NASH, the patients have consumed little or no alcohol. Like other liver diseases, NASH is typically “silent” in its early stage, and the first indication of the disease often comes from a routine blood test. Elevated liver enzymes indicate to a physician that something is irregular, leading to more tests and elimination of other conditions. It takes a liver biopsy to confirm a diagnosis of NASH; if there is only fat in the liver, but no inflammation or damage, that’s indicative of a simple fatty liver.

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Jaundice (also known as icterus) is a yellowish pigmentation of the skin, the conjunctival membranes over the sclerae (whites of the eyes), and other mucous membranes caused by hyperbilirubinemia (increased levels of bilirubin in the blood). This hyperbilirubinemia subsequently causes increased levels of bilirubin in the extracellular fluid. Concentration of bilirubin in blood plasma does not normally exceed 1 mg/dL (>17µmol/L). A concentration higher than 1.8 mg/dL (>30µmol/L) leads to jaundice.

Cholelithiasis: Cholelithiasis is the medical term for gallstone disease. Gallstones are concretions that form in the biliary tract, usually in the gallbladder.

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