Liver Glossary


abdomen – area between the chest and the hips that contains the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen.
acute – severe; sharp; beings sharply.
anemia – blood disorder caused by a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells).
angiography – x-ray that uses dye to detect bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.
ascites – fluid build-up in the abdominal cavity which is usually caused by severe liver diseases, such as cirrhosis.
atresia – lack of a normal opening from the esophagus, intestines, or the anus.
autoimmune hepatitis – liver disease caused when the body’s immune system destroys liver cells for no known reason.


bile – fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile helps break down fats and gets rid of wastes in the body.
bile acids – acids made by the liver that work with bile to break down fats.
bile ducts – tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder for storage and to the small intestine for use in digestion.
biliary stricture – narrowing of the biliary tract from scar tissue. The scar tissue may result from injury, disease, pancreatitis, infection, or gallstones.
biliary tract (Also called biliary system or biliary tree.) – gallbladder and the bile ducts.
bilirubin – a yellow-green color substance formed when hemoglobin breaks down. Bilirubin gives bile its color. Bilirubin is normally passed in stool. Too much bilirubin causes jaundice.
bloating – fullness or swelling in the abdomen that often occurs after meals.


calculi – stones or solid lumps such as gallstones.
catheter – thin, flexible tube that carries fluids into or out of the body.
cholangiography – a procedure in which dye (contrast) is deposited and the bile duct structures can be viewed by x-ray.
cholangitis – irritated or infected bile ducts.
cholecystectomy – operation to remove the gallbladder.
cholecystitis – irritated gallbladder.
cholecystography (Also called oral cholecystography or gallbladder series.) – a series of x-rays are taken of the gallbladder after a special contrast dye is swallowed, making it possible to detect gallstones, cholecystitis, and other abnormalities.
choledocholithiasis – gallstones in the bile ducts.
cholelithiasis – gallstones in the gallbladder.
cholestasis – blocked bile ducts often caused by gallstones.
chronic – referring to a disease or disorder that usually develops slowly and lasts for a long period of time.
cirrhosis – a chronic problem makes it hard for the liver to remove toxins (poisonous substances) from the body. Alcohol, medications, and other substances may build up in the bloodstream and cause problems. Cirrhosis is a result of scarring and damage from other diseases, such as biliary atresia and alcoholism.
common bile duct – tube that carries bile from the liver to the small intestine.
common bile duct obstruction – blockage of the common bile duct, often caused by gallstones.
computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) – a diagnostic imaging procedure using a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
cystic duct – tube that carries bile from the gallbladder into the common bile duct and the small intestine.
cystic duct obstruction – blockage of the cystic duct, often caused by gallstones.


digestive tract – the organs that are involved in digestion, including the mouth, salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, and large intestine.
distention – bloating or swelling; usually referring to the abdomen.
duodenum – the first section of the small intestine.


endoscope – small, flexible tube with a light and a lens on the end used to look into the esophagus, stomach, duodenum, colon, or rectum. It can also be used to take tissue from the body for testing or to take color photographs of the inside of the body. Colonoscopes and sigmoidoscopes are types of endoscopes.
endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – a procedure that allows the physician to diagnose and treat problems in the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas. The procedure combines x-ray and the use of an endoscope – a long, flexible, lighted tube. The scope is guided through the patient’s mouth and throat, then through the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The physician can examine the inside of these organs and detect any abnormalities. A tube is then passed through the scope, and a dye is injected which will allow the internal organs to appear on an x-ray.
endoscopic sphincterotomy – operation to cut the muscle between the common bile duct and the pancreatic duct. Also called endoscopic papillotomy.
endoscopy – procedure that uses an endoscope to diagnose or treat a condition.
enteral nutrition (Also called tube feeding.) – a way to provide food through a tube placed in the nose, the stomach, or the small intestine. A tube in the nose is called a nasogastric or nasoantral tube. A tube that goes through the skin into the stomach is called a gastrostomy or percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG). A tube into the small intestine is called a jejunostomy or percutaneous endoscopic jejunostomy (PEJ) tube.
esophageal varices – stretched veins in the esophagus that occur when the liver is not working properly.
esophagogastroduodenoscopy (Also called EGD or upper endoscopy.) – a procedure that allows the physician to examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. A thin, flexible, lighted tube, called an endoscope, is guided into the mouth and throat, then into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The endoscope allows the physician to view the inside of this area of the body, as well as to insert instruments through a scope for the removal of a sample of tissue for biopsy (if necessary).
esophagus – organ that connects the mouth to the stomach.
excrete – to get rid of waste from the body.
extrahepatic biliary tree – bile ducts located outside the liver.


fatty liver (Also called steatosis.) – buildup of fat in liver cells.
fecal fat test – test to measure the body’s ability to break down and absorb fat.
fibrosis – the growth of scar tissue due to infection, inflammation, injury, or even healing.


gallbladder – organ that stores the bile made in the liver and sends bile into the small intestine to help digest fat.
gallstones – solid masses or stones made of cholesterol or bilirubin that form in the gallbladder or bile ducts.
gastrectomy – operation in which part (subtotal or partial) or all (total) of the stomach is removed.
gastritis – inflammation of the stomach lining.
gastroenteritis – infection or irritation of the stomach and intestines, which may be caused by bacteria or parasites from spoiled food or unclean water, or eating food that irritates the stomach lining and emotional upsets such as anger, fear, or stress.
gastroenterologist – physician who specializes in digestive diseases.
glucagon – a hormone produced by the pancreas.
glycogen – converted glucose for storage. Glycogen plays a role in controlling blood sugar levels.
glucose – a simple sugar, which is the body’s main source of energy.


hepatic – related to the liver.

hepatitis – inflammation of the liver that sometimes causes permanent damage; caused by viruses, drugs, alcohol, or parasites. Hepatitis has the following forms:

  • hepatitis A – a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus may be spread by fecal-oral contact, fecal-infected food or water, and may also be spread by a blood-borne infection (which is rare).
  • hepatitis B – a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis B virus. Transmission of the hepatitis B virus occurs through blood and body fluid exposure such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva.
  • hepatitis C – a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis C virus. Transmission of the hepatitis C virus occurs primarily from contact with infected blood, but can also occur from sexual contact or from an infected mother to her baby.
  • hepatitis D – a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis (Delta) virus. This form of hepatitis can only occur in the presence of hepatitis B. Transmission of hepatitis D occurs the same way as hepatitis B.
  • hepatitis E – a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis E virus. This form of hepatitis is similar to hepatitis A. Transmission occurs through fecal-oral contamination. Hepatitis E is most common in poorly developed countries and is rarely seen in the US.
  • hepatitis G – the newest form of infectious hepatitis. Transmission is believed to occur through blood and is seen in IV drug users, individuals with clotting disorders, such as hemophilia, and individuals who require hemodialysis for renal failure.


hepatobiliary scintigraphy – an imaging technique of the liver, bile ducts, gallbladder, and upper part of the small intestine.
hepatologist – physician who specializes in liver diseases.
hepatology – field of medicine concerned with the functions and disorders of the liver.
hormones – chemical substances created by the body that control numerous body functions.


ileal – related to the ileum, the lowest end of the small intestine.
ileum – lower end of the small intestine.
insulin – a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin affects the amount of glucose absorbed by the liver.


jaundice – yellowing of the skin and eyes that is caused by too much bilirubin in the blood.
jejunum – middle section of the small intestine between the duodenum and ileum.



laparoscopy – use of a viewing tube with a lens or camera (and a light on the end), which is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen to examine the contents of the abdomen and remove tissue samples.
laparotomy – a surgical incision into a cavity in the abdomen, usually performed using general or regional anesthesia.
large intestine – part of the intestine that goes from the cecum to the rectum.
liver – largest organ in the body, which carries out many important functions, such as making bile, changing food into energy, and cleaning alcohol and poisons from the blood.
liver biopsy – a procedure in which tissue samples from the liver are removed (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope.
liver enzyme tests (Also called liver function tests.) – blood tests to determine how well the liver and biliary system are functioning properly.
lower GI (gastrointestinal) series (Also called barium enema.) – a procedure that examines the rectum, the large intestine, and the lower part of the small intestine. A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray) is given into the rectum as an enema. An x-ray of the abdomen shows strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages), and other problems.


magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.


nausea – a feeling or sensation leading to the urge to vomit.

obstruction – blockage in the GI tract that prevents the flow of liquids or solids.


pancreas – gland that makes enzymes for digestion and the hormone insulin.
pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas.
percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC) – a needle is introduced through the skin and into the liver where the dye (contrast) is deposited and the bile duct structures can be viewed by x-ray.
peritoneum – lining of the abdominal cavity.
peritonitis – infection of the peritoneum.
portal hypertension – high blood pressure in the portal vein that carries blood into the liver caused by a blood clot.
portal vein – large vein that carries blood from the intestines and spleen to the liver.
portosystemic shunt – operation to create an opening between the portal vein and other veins around the liver.
postcholecystectomy syndrome (Also called biliary dyskinesia.) – condition that occurs after gallbladder removal in which the muscle between the gallbladder and the small intestine does not work properly, causing pain, nausea, and indigestion.
primary sclerosing cholangitis – irritation, scarring, and narrowing of the bile ducts inside and outside the liver.
proton pump inhibitors – medications that stop the stomach’s acid pump.
pyloric sphincter – muscle between the stomach and the small intestine.
pyloric stenosis – narrowing of the opening between the stomach and the small intestine.
pylorus – opening from the stomach into the top of the small intestine (duodenum).



rectum – lower end of the large intestine, leading to the anus.
rupture – break or tear in any organ or soft tissue.


sclerotherapy – method of stopping upper GI bleeding. A needle is inserted through an endoscope to bring hardening agents to the place that is bleeding.
small intestine – the section of the digestive tract between the stomach and the large intestine. Most of digestion occurs here as nutrients are absorbed from food.
sphincter – ring-like band of muscle that opens and closes an opening in the body.
sphincter of Oddi – muscle between the common bile duct and pancreatic ducts.
spleen – organ that cleans blood and makes white blood cells.
stricture (Also called stenosis.) – abnormal narrowing of a body opening.


tumor – an abnormal lump or mass of tissue. Tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).


ultrasound (Also called sonography.) – a diagnostic imaging technique, which uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs of the abdomen such as the liver, spleen, and kidneys and to assess blood flow through various vessels.
upper GI endoscopy – looking into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum with an endoscope.
upper GI (gastrointestinal) series (Also called barium swallow.) – a diagnostic test that examines the organs of the upper part of the digestive system: the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first section of the small intestine). A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray) is swallowed. X-rays are then taken to evaluate the digestive organs.


varices – stretched veins such as those that form in the esophagus from cirrhosis.



x-ray – a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.