It’s no secret that a gastroenterologist is who you need to see for digestive problems or to have a colonoscopy. However, the exact scope of care provided by a gastroenterologist is often misunderstood. Beyond the gastrointestinal tract, these specialists also care for other organs that are involved in the process of digestion, including the gallbladder, pancreas, and liver.
Location and Function of the Liver
The liver is located on the right side of the abdomen, above the gallbladder. It is divided into two separate lobes. As part of its role in digestive health, the liver is responsible for filtering blood and processing nutrients from the digestive tract, as well as secreting bile to aid in the digestion of fat. Additionally, it is responsible for detoxifying chemicals which could be potentially harmful to the body and metabolizing drugs.
Diseases that Affect the Liver
Given the vital role it plays in healthy body function, disease of the liver can be serious and requires proper medical treatment. Among the conditions which may impact the liver are:
- Hepatitis – Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver and is often the result of viral hepatitis A, B, or C. The severity of the condition depends on the specific type of hepatitis contracted. While hepatitis A resolves relatively quickly and without complication, hepatitis B and C can both lead to chronic liver infection.
- Cirrhosis – Cirrhosis is damage to the liver from sources such as hepatitis or alcohol abuse that results in scarring. This damage is almost always irreversible, and severe cases may require transplant.
- Fatty Liver – Fatty liver is often a precursor to cirrhosis. It occurs due to accumulation of triglycerides inside liver cells. In cases where a fatty liver becomes inflamed (steatohepatitis), scarring (fibrosis) may occur, and this is when cirrhosis can develop.
- Liver Cancer – Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer and is typically preceded by cirrhosis. When detected in early stages before the cancer has spread, the average 5-year survival rate is 31 percent.
How a Gastroenterologist Cares for the Liver
Due to its role in the digestive system, gastroenterologists are well-equipped to diagnose and treat many conditions of the liver. While some conditions may require care from multiple types of doctors, a skilled gastroenterologist is always a key component in the treatment of diseases impacting the gastrointestinal tract and related organs.