The liver is an incredible and necessary asset to the human body. It is the largest visceral organ in the body, weighs approximately 3 kilograms and holds about a pint of blood. It works alone or in conjunction with other organs such as the gallbladder or the pancreas to provide critical processes needed for life. As an accessory organ, the liver produces bile and then partners with the gallbladder for its storage. Bile is needed to carry waste and the breakdown of fats during digestion. The liver also works with the pancreas in regulating blood glucose levels by converting excess carbohydrates to glycogen or the break-down of amino acids to form glucose – which is needed for energy.
The liver is responsible for hundreds of other functions throughout the body. It is essential for the process of nutrients obtained from food and detoxifies poisonous chemicals from substances such as alcohol and drugs. It processes hemoglobin for its iron which is stored in reserve in the liver, along with vitamins A, D, & K. It is necessary for the “synthesis of clotting factors such as fibrinogen, prothrombin, factors V, VII, IX, & X” (Porth, 2011, p. 732). It manufactures new plasma proteins and converts the waste from amino acids in the form of ammonia to urea which is then excreted by the kidneys. The liver also plays a role with the body’s immunity by removing bacteria from the bloodstream through Kupffer cells.
In a healthy individual, the liver carries out its responsibilities and provides nutrient rich blood through its dual blood supply via the portal vein and the hepatic artery. When the liver becomes damaged or is no longer able to filter, liver failure occurs. “Portal hypertension is characterized by increased resistance to flow in the portal venous system and the sustained increased in portal venous pressure; the consequences are ascites, the formation of collateral bypass channels from the portosystemic circulation and splenomegaly” (Porth, 2011, p. 751).
Liver failure is life-threatening and can occur rapidly or over an extended period of time. Acute liver failure can be caused by an overdose of hepatotoxic medications such as Tylenol and by viruses such as Hepatitis A, B or C ("WebMD," 2012, para. 4). Chronic liver failure, which can occur over months or years, can be caused by Hepatitis B or C, alcohol use, cirrhosis, or malnutrition.
Liver failure affects the body in a variety of ways. The blood is affected by increased incidence of anemia, thrombocytopenia, coagulation