One of the main functions of the liver and pancreas is to aid food digestion. The liver makes the digestive fluid bile, which is stored in the gallbladder. The pancreas makes digestive enzymes. These organs have other vital functions. The liver uses digestion products to make new substances such as proteins and fats, and the pancreas produces hormones that control the level of glucose in the blood.
The yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes known as jaundice is a sign of liver disease but also has other causes, which are discussed in the first article in this section. The next two articles cover hepatitis due to viral infection, which is the most common cause of liver disease worldwide, as well as other forms of hepatitis. Excessive alcohol consumption is the main cause of liver disease in Western countries; three articles deal with alcoholic liver disease and its complications – cirrhosis and portal hypertension and varices. Liver cancer is then described; the first type, which originates in the liver, is less common in Western countries than cancer that spreads from other organs to the liver (liver metastases). Liver failure, which may be fatal unless treated with liver transplantation, is also discussed.
Gallstones do not usually cause symptoms and may not need to be treated, as explained in the next articles, but can lead to inflammation of the gallbladder, called cholecystitis. Articles on the inflammatory conditions, acute and chronic pancreatitis follow, and the final article covers pancreatic cancer, which is relatively uncommon in the UK.
For information on the structure and function of the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas, see Digestive System.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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