Liver Terms Explained


Abdomen [abdoh-muhn]: the belly

Acute [uhkyoot]: illness that starts suddenly and is often severe

AFP: alpha-fetoprotein [al-fuh-fee-toh-proh-teen]. In adults, a high level of AFP could mean liver cancer (HCC)

Alagille syndrome [al-uhjeeuhl sin-drohm]: a condition you inherit. It means someone has fewer than normal small bile ducts inside the liver. This can cause bile to build up in the liver

Albumin [albyoomuhn]: the main protein made by the liver. Low levels of albumin may mean liver disease

Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency [ an-tee-trip- sin dihfishuhn-see] : a condition you inherit that can cause liver disease, jaundice, and cirrhosis

ALP: alkaline phosphatase [al-kuh-lahyn fos-fuh-teys]; a chemical mostly produced in the bile ducts. High levels of ALP in the blood may mean liver injury

ALT: alanine aminotransferase [aluh-neen uh-mee-noh-trans-fuh-reys]; a chemical mostly produced by liver cells. Raised levels of ALT may mean liver inflammation

Ascites [uhsahy-teez]: fluid in the belly, sometimes from liver failure

AST: aspartate aminotransferase [uhspahr-teyt uh-mee-noh-trans-fuh-reys]; high levels of AST in the blood can mean liver damage

Autoimmune [aw-toh-i-myoon]: when the body gets attacked by its own immune system


Benign [bih-nahyn]: not cancer; tumours that won’t spread to surrounding tissue or other parts of the body

Bile [bahyl] : yellow-green liquid that is put out from the liver, stored in the gallbladder and passes into the small intestine help digest food by breaking down fat

Bile duct [bahyl duhkt]: tube that carries bile from the liver to the gallbladder and then to the intestines

Biliary atresia [bil-ee-er-ee uhtree-zhuh] : a condition some babies are born with that means the bile ducts aren’t formed properly

Bilirubin [biluh-roo-bin]: a colouring made from breaking down a chemical (haemoglobin) in red blood cells. The liver takes bilirubin from the blood in bile

Biopsy [bahy-op-see]: a small operation to get tiny sample of liver tissue to look at under the microscope. It’s used to see what is causing the liver disease and how much fibrosis (scarring) of the liver is there

Budd-Chiari syndrome [buhd kee-ahr-ree  sin-drome] : a rare liver disease that happens when the veins that drain blood from the liver are narrowed or blocked


Child-Pugh score [chahyld-pyoo skawr]: a score to show how bad liver disease is

Cholangiocarcinoma [koh-lan-jee-o-kahr-suhnoh-muh]: cancer of the bile ducts, the second most common cancer that starts in the liver

Cholangitis [koh-lan-jahy-tis]: irritated, infected or inflamed bile ducts

Cholestasis [koh-luhstey-sis]: when the flow of bile is interrupted, resulting in reduced bile reaching the intestine and build-up of bile in the blood causing jaundice and itching

Chronic [kron-ik] : disease or condition that lasts a long time and usually gradually gets worse

Cirrhosis [siroh-sis] : scarring and damage to the liver. Cirrhosis stops the liver from working properly

Chemotherapy [kee-moh-theruh-pee]: drugs to treat cancer

Clinical trial [klin-i-kuhl trahyuhl] : research study to answer medical questions and solve health problems

Congenital [kuhn-jen-i-tl] : a condition or disease present at or before birth

CT: computerised tomography [kuhm-pyoo-tuh-rahyz-d tom-og-ruh-fee]; a type of imaging that uses X-rays to make detailed pictures of the body


Fatty liver disease [fat-ee liv-er dih-zeez] : too much fat in the liver cells, stopping the liver from working properly

FibroScanⓇ [fahy-broh-skan]: an ultrasound scan to check how much fibrosis (scarring) and fat are in the liver

Fibrosis [fahy-broh-sis]: scarring in the liver


Gastroenterologist [gas-troh-en-tuhroluh-jist]: a doctor who specialises in the digestive system

GGT: gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase [gamuh glootuh-mil trans-pep- tid-eyz]; a chemical in the blood that can mean liver injury


Haemochromatosis [hee-muh-kroh-muhtoh-sis]: a condition you inherit which means too much iron in the blood and organs. It can cause cirrhosis and liver failure

Hepatic [hi-pat-ik]: about the liver

Hepatic artery [hi-pat-ik ahr-tuh-ree]: the blood vessel that brings blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the liver

Hepatic encephalopathy [hi-pat-ik en-sef-uhlopuh-thee]: a nervous system disorder brought on by severe liver disease. When the liver doesn’t work properly, toxins build up in the blood. These toxins can travel to the brain and affect brain function.

Hepatitis [hep-uhtahy-tis]: inflammation of the liver

Hepatitis A: a liver condition caused by the hepatitis A virus; you get it from infected food or water. There is a vaccine for hepatitis A

Hepatitis B: a liver condition caused by the B virus; you get it from body fluids of someone infected with hepatitis B. There is a vaccine for hepatitis B

Hepatitis C: a liver condition caused by the hepatitis C virus; you get it from body fluids of someone infected with hepatitis C. There is a cure for hepatitis C

Hepatocellular carcinoma – HCC [hep-uh-toh-selyuh-ler kahr-suhnoh-muh ]: the most common form of cancer that starts in the liver

Hepatologist [hep-uhtoluh-jist]: a doctor who specialises in liver health and disease

Hepatology [hep-uhtoluh-jee]: study of the liver

Hepatomegaly [hep-uh-toh-meguh-lee]: when the liver gets too big; you can feel it below the ribs


Icteric [ik-ter-ik]: jaundiced

Idiopathic [id-ee-uhpath-ik]: condition or disease where the cause isn’t known

Immunotherapy [im-yuh-noh-theruh-pee] : a treatment for cancer that uses the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer

Immunosuppressant [im-yuh-noh-suhpres-ant]: a medicine that causes the body’s immune system to weaken or stop working


Jaundice [jawn-dis] : yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes caused by too much bilirubin in the blood. Jaundice is a sign the liver isn’t working properly


Kasai procedure [kahsahy pruh-see-jer]: type of surgery for biliary atresia that brings back bile flow


Liver function test [liv-er fuhngk-shuhn test]: blood tests that check how well the liver and bile ducts are working. Also called a liver enzyme test


Metabolic Associated Fatty Liver Disease (MAFLD) [met-uhbol-ik fat-ee liv-er dih-zeez] : is a type of fatty liver disease caused by problems of the metabolism, often in people who have a poor diet or are overweight

Metastasis [muhtas-tuh-sis] : when cancer cells spread to other parts of the body from where the cancer started

Malignant [muhlig-nuhnt]: cancer that could spread to other parts of the body

MELD Score: Model for End-Stage Liver Disease: a score for working out the risk of dying in people with end-stage liver disease

MRE: magnetic resonance enterography [mag-net-ik rezuh-nuhns en-ter-og-ruh-fee]; a type of imaging used for digestion problems

MRI: magnetic resonance imaging [mag-net-ik rezuh-nuhns imuh-jing ]; a type of imaging that uses magnets, radio waves and computers to take detailed picture of the inside of the body


NAFLD: Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease [non al-kuhhol-ik fat-ee liv-er dih-zeez] . A form of fatty liver disease. It is now often called Metabolic Associated Fatty Liver Disease (MAFLD)

NASH: Non-Alcoholic SteatoHepatitis [non al-kuhhol-ik stee-at-uh-hep-uhtahy-tis] – the more advanced stage of fatty liver disease


PBC: primary biliary cholangitis [prahy-muh-ree bil-yuh-ree kohl-an-jayh-tis]: a rare autoimmune condition that affects the bile ducts and can eventually lead to cirrhosis

Portal Hypertension [paw-tal hy-puh-ten-shuhn]: a disease affecting the liver, portal system of veins, and also the oesophagus and spleen.  The portal vein takes blood from the gut to the liver. In the case of liver cirrhosis and a few other causes, there is an impedance to portal blood flow to the liver which causes an increase in pressure in the portal vein.  This causes the spleen to enlarge, for fluid to drain into the abdomen (ascites) but also the formation of enlarged veins.  You can watch a video about it here.

PSC: primary sclerosing cholestasis [prahy-muh-ree  kuh-les-stey-sis]: an autoimmune condition usually found in people who also have inflammatory bowel disease. It may lead to liver failure, infections or tumours in the bile duct or liver (cholangiocarcinoma or hepatocellular carcinoma)

Pruritus [proorahy-tuhs]: severe itching

PTLD: post transplant lymphoproliferative diseases [pohst trans-plahnt lim-fuh-pruhlifuh-rey-tiv] , a condition in people who have had a liver transplant thought to be caused by a reaction between the Epstein Barr virus and some of the drugs. PTLD can turn into lymphoma, a cancer of the blood


Rejection [ri-jek-shuhn] : when the body’s immune system rejects a transplanted organ

Reye’s Syndrome [rey-s sin-drohm]  : sudden and severe childhood liver disease, which can happen after a virus or from taking paracetamol


Stenosis [sti-noh-sis]: abnormal narrowing of a body opening. Also called a stricture

Steroid [ster-oid]: medicine that damps down the body’s immune system


Targeted therapy [tahr-git-ed theruh-pee] : treatment that attacks cancer cells

Tumour [tyoo-mer]: a cancer growth made of abnormal cells

Transplant [transplahnt] : surgery that takes out a diseased liver and puts in a new healthy liver, or part of a liver, from a donor


Ultrasound [uhl-truh-sound]: a type of imaging that uses high-frequency sound waves and computers to take detailed pictures inside the body


Varices [vairuh-seez]: when veins are stretched and thinned out because the liver doesn’t work properly. Varices are often found in the food pipe

Viral hepatitis [vahy-ruhl hep-uhtahy-tis]: liver inflammation caused by a virus


Wilson’s disease [wil-suhns dih-zeez ]: a condition you inherit where there is too much copper in the liver and other organs



Global Liver Institute. Liver Glossary

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Keep up to date with activities, campaigns, developments and news.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.