Liver Anatomy and Physiology

Understanding the Inner Workings of the Body’s Largest Internal Organ

Understanding liver anatomy and physiology of the liver is essential for diagnosing and treating liver diseases.

The liver is one of the largest organs in the human body and plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. It is located in the upper right side of the abdomen and is responsible for a variety of functions, including detoxification, metabolism, and protein synthesis.

The liver is divided into two main lobes, each of which is further divided into smaller lobules. These lobules contain specialized cells called hepatocytes, which perform many of the liver’s functions.

Blood flows into the liver through the hepatic artery and portal vein, and is filtered through the sinusoids, where hepatocytes remove toxins and other harmful substances. The liver also produces bile, which helps with digestion and absorption of fats.

Liver Anatomy

The liver is a vital organ that performs a variety of functions in the body. It is the largest glandular organ in the body and is located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, just below the diaphragm. The liver is divided into two main lobes, the right and left lobes, which are further divided into smaller lobes known as lobules.

Lobes of the Liver

The right lobe of the liver is larger than the left lobe and is responsible for the majority of the liver’s functions. The left lobe is smaller and is located on the left side of the body. The two lobes are separated by the falciform ligament, which is a band of connective tissue that runs from the diaphragm to the liver.

Liver Cells

The liver is made up of many different types of cells, including hepatocytes, Kupffer cells, and stellate cells. Hepatocytes are the most abundant type of cell in the liver and are responsible for many of its functions, including the production of bile, the metabolism of drugs and toxins, and the storage of glycogen.

Kupffer cells are specialized immune cells that help to remove bacteria and other foreign particles from the blood, while stellate cells are responsible for the production of extracellular matrix proteins and play a role in liver fibrosis.

Liver Structures

The liver has a complex structure that includes a variety of blood vessels, ducts, and other structures. The hepatic artery supplies oxygen-rich blood to the liver, while the portal vein brings nutrient-rich blood from the intestines.

The bile ducts carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine, where it helps to digest fats. The liver also contains a network of sinusoids, which are small blood vessels that allow for the exchange of nutrients and waste products between the blood and the liver cells.

Liver Anatomy and Physiology
Liver Anatomy and Physiology

Liver Physiology

The liver is a vital organ that performs a variety of functions in the body. It is the largest internal organ and is responsible for many metabolic processes.

In this section, we will explore the physiology of the liver, including its role in bile production and secretion, detoxification and metabolism, and blood regulation.

Bile Production and Secretion

The liver produces and secretes bile, which is a greenish-yellow fluid that helps in the digestion of fats. Bile is made up of water, bile salts, cholesterol, and bilirubin. The liver produces about 600-800 ml of bile per day, which is stored in the gallbladder until it is needed.

When food enters the small intestine, the gallbladder contracts and releases bile into the common bile duct, which leads to the small intestine. Bile emulsifies fats, which makes them easier to digest and absorb. Bile also helps in the elimination of waste products, such as bilirubin, from the body.

Detoxification and Metabolism

The liver is responsible for detoxifying harmful substances in the body, such as drugs, alcohol, and toxins. It does this by converting these substances into less harmful compounds that can be eliminated from the body.

The liver also plays a vital role in metabolism. It is involved in the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and the production of glucose. It also stores vitamins and minerals, such as iron and vitamin B12.

Blood Regulation

The liver is responsible for regulating the levels of glucose, amino acids, and lipids in the blood. It stores excess glucose as glycogen, which can be released into the bloodstream when glucose levels are low.

The liver also produces proteins, such as albumin and clotting factors, which are important for maintaining the balance of fluids in the body. In addition, the liver is involved in the production of red blood cells during fetal development.

After birth, this function is taken over by the bone marrow. Overall, the liver is a complex organ that performs many vital functions in the body. Understanding its physiology is crucial for maintaining good health and preventing disease.

Liver Function Tests

Liver function tests are a group of blood tests that measure various markers of liver health. These tests are commonly used to diagnose liver diseases, monitor liver function, and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment.

Liver Enzymes

Liver enzymes are proteins produced by liver cells that help the liver perform its functions. Elevated levels of liver enzymes in the blood can indicate liver damage or disease.

The most commonly measured liver enzymes are alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST). Elevated levels of these enzymes can indicate liver inflammation or injury, such as in hepatitis or cirrhosis.

Bilirubin Levels

Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is produced when red blood cells are broken down in the liver. Elevated levels of bilirubin in the blood can indicate liver disease or dysfunction. Total bilirubin levels are usually measured, as well as direct and indirect bilirubin levels.

Elevated levels of direct bilirubin can indicate bile duct obstruction, while elevated levels of indirect bilirubin can indicate hemolytic anemia.

Prothrombin Time

Prothrombin time (PT) is a measure of how long it takes for blood to clot. The liver produces many of the proteins involved in blood clotting, so PT can be used as an indicator of liver function.

Elevated PT can indicate liver disease or dysfunction, as well as an increased risk of bleeding. Liver function tests are an important tool in the diagnosis and management of liver diseases.

However, abnormal results do not always indicate liver disease, and further testing may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis.

Liver Diseases and Disorders


Hepatitis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by a virus, alcohol abuse, or exposure to certain chemicals. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, jaundice, and abdominal pain. Treatment options depend on the cause of the hepatitis and may include antiviral medications or lifestyle changes.


Cirrhosis is a chronic liver disease that occurs when healthy liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue. This can be caused by long-term alcohol abuse, viral hepatitis, or other conditions.

Symptoms include fatigue, jaundice, and abdominal swelling. Treatment options may include medications to manage symptoms, lifestyle changes, or in severe cases, a liver transplant.

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the liver. It can be caused by chronic liver disease, hepatitis B or C, or other factors.

Symptoms may include abdominal pain, jaundice, and weight loss. Treatment options depend on the stage of the cancer and may include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.


Rhabdomyolysis is a condition where muscle fibers break down and release a protein called myoglobin into the bloodstream. This can lead to kidney damage and other complications. While rhabdomyolysis primarily affects the muscles, it can also impact the liver.

In severe cases, the liver may not be able to process the excess myoglobin, leading to liver damage and elevated liver enzymes. Therefore, it’s essential to monitor liver function in individuals with rhabdomyolysis and provide appropriate medical treatment to prevent further complications.

Other liver diseases and disorders include:

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Primary biliary cholangitis
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Wilson’s disease

Liver Physiology and Anatomy

Frequently Asked Questions for Anatomy and Physiology of the Liver

The liver is a vital organ that performs many functions in the body. It is responsible for producing bile, which helps in the digestion of fats, and also plays a key role in detoxifying harmful substances from the blood. As such, it is no surprise that many people have questions about the anatomy and physiology of the liver. Here are three frequently asked questions:

1. What is the structure of the liver?

The liver is a large, reddish-brown organ that is located in the upper right side of the abdomen. It is divided into two main lobes, which are further divided into smaller lobes called lobules. Each lobule contains thousands of hepatic cells, which are responsible for performing the liver’s many functions. The liver is also connected to the gallbladder and the pancreas through a series of ducts.

2. How does the liver detoxify harmful substances?

The liver is responsible for detoxifying many harmful substances, including alcohol, drugs, and other toxins. It does this by using enzymes to break down these substances into less harmful compounds, which can then be excreted from the body. The liver also plays an important role in metabolizing medications, which is why some medications can be toxic to the liver if taken in excess or if the liver is already compromised.

3. What are some common liver diseases?

There are many different liver diseases, ranging from relatively mild conditions like fatty liver disease to more serious conditions like cirrhosis and liver cancer. Some common liver diseases include:

  • Hepatitis A, B, and C
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Cirrhosis
  • Liver cancer

Many liver diseases can be prevented or treated with lifestyle changes, medications, or other interventions. However, some liver diseases can be very serious and may require a liver transplant in order to save the patient’s life.

4. Can stress cause elevated liver enzymes?

Yes, stress can cause high liver enzymes. Stress can cause the liver to produce more enzymes, which can lead to elevated liver enzyme levels in the bloodstream. This is because stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline can trigger the release of glucose from the liver, which in turn can cause an increase in liver enzyme production. Additionally, stress can also lead to inflammation in the liver, which can further contribute to elevated liver enzymes.

5. Can rhabdomyolysis affect liver enzymes?

Yes, rhabdomyolysis can impact liver function and lead to elevated liver enzymes. This is because excessive myoglobin released by damaged muscles can overload the liver’s ability to process it, causing liver damage.

Therefore, it’s crucial to monitor liver function in individuals with rhabdomyolysis and seek medical attention if symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal pain, or yellowing of the skin or eyes occur.

6. Can gastritis cause elevated liver enzymes?

While gastritis primarily affects the stomach lining, it can also impact liver function and cause elevated liver enzymes.

This is because the liver and the stomach are connected through the digestive system, and inflammation in the stomach can trigger inflammation in the liver. However, other factors can also contribute to high liver enzyme levels.

Nursing References

Ackley, B. J., Ladwig, G. B., Makic, M. B., Martinez-Kratz, M. R., & Zanotti, M. (2020). Nursing diagnoses handbook: An evidence-based guide to planning care. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.  Buy on Amazon

Gulanick, M., & Myers, J. L. (2017). Nursing care plans: Diagnoses, interventions, & outcomes. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier. Buy on Amazon

Ignatavicius, D. D., Workman, M. L., Rebar, C. R., & Heimgartner, N. M. (2018). Medical-surgical nursing: Concepts for interprofessional collaborative care. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.  Buy on Amazon

Silvestri, L. A. (2020). Saunders comprehensive review for the NCLEX-RN examination. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.  Buy on Amazon


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The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

This information is intended to be nursing education and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.

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Anna Curran. RN, BSN, PHN

Anna Curran. RN-BC, BSN, PHN, CMSRN I am a Critical Care ER nurse. I have been in this field for over 30 years. I also began teaching BSN and LVN students and found that by writing additional study guides helped their knowledge base, especially when it was time to take the NCLEX examinations.

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