Liver is the largest glandular organ in our body. It serves several roles in our digestive, circulatory and excretory system. Overall, the liver performs about 500 vital functions and produces over 1,000 essential substances needed by our body. Moreover, we can only live up to 24 hours without the liver function. Failure of the liver to function properly is one of the causes of excessive water retention in legs and abdominal. Now, Let’s take a look at the liver and its function to better understand what the fluid retention causes in patients with chronic liver disease.


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The liver inside our body

Liver is one of our internal organs capable to regenerate itself naturally. It is located on the upper right side of the abdominal cavity below the diaphragm. It weighs about 1.4 to 1.8 kg and is divided into two main lobes. Each lobe is composed of thousand of lobules and each lobule is made up of liver cells called hepatocytes that carry out various liver functions.

The liver holds approximately 13% of your total blood supply at any given moment. It receives the blood from two sources: about 60% to 80% from the hepatic portal vein and the rest from the hepatic artery. The hepatic portal vein carries nutrient-rich blood from small intestine while hepatic artery supplies oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the liver.

The liver’s function

  • Produces and secretes bile; greenish digestive fluid that is required by the small intestine to break down fats
  • Maintains the blood concentrations of glucose in the blood by:
    • Stores and secludes excess glucose as glycogen
    • Reforms glucose by breaking down the glycogen when the level of glucose starts to decline
    • Synthesizes and forms glucose from certain amino acids and carbohydrates when the glycogen reserves are used up
  • Synthesizes cholesterol and certain proteins to help in fats distribution through the body
  • Synthesizes most blood proteins such as albumin (the major plasma protein) and coagulation factors (proteins responsible for blood clotting)
  • Stores a great number of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals
  • Breaks down harmful substances into the blood or bile; the kidneys filter the blood and excrete harmful substances as urine while waste products from the bile leave the intestine as feces
    • Converts ammonia to urea
    • Transforms bilirubin into water-soluble to be excreted into bile; too much of bilirubin in the blood can cause a yellow pigmentation of the skin and eyes
    • Detoxifies and removes toxic substances and chemical products

Fluid retention causes in patients with liver disorders

Ascites is excessive water retention in the abdominal cavity. One of the causes of abdominal swelling or ascites is cirrhosis of the liver. Other chronic liver diseases might lead to abdominal swelling and water retention in legs too. A combination of several factors is the fluid retention causes in patients with chronic liver disease:

  • There’s a blockage in the blood flow from the intestine through the liver. Blood that fail to reach the liver will leak into the abdominal cavity and cause excessive water retention in the abdominal cavity or ascites. The blockage can be caused by cirrhosis or scarring of the liver, clotting in the portal vein, etc.
  • Decreased ability of the blood vessels to retain fluid because of poor protein albumin synthesis; Protein albumin helps to hold fluid in the bloodstream thus when it is too low, the fluid leaks into the body tissues. The leakage will lead to water retention in legs and abdominal cavity (ascites).