Useful Words

Below are some common words and terms used in our publications with an explanation of their meaning.


Acute – a short sharp illness that may be severe but from which most people will recover from in a few weeks without lasting effects.

Albumin – the main protein in human blood, manufactured by the liver. Low albumin levels are an indication of liver damage.

ALT – Alanine Aminotransferase, a liver enzyme that enters the blood following liver damage. An ALT test is used to monitor and assess the degree of damage in patients infected with chronic HBV.

Antigen – a substance (it may be part of a virus) which is recognised by the body as foreign so the body’s immune defence can react by producing antibodies.

Antibody – a specific immunoglobulin (protein) produced by the body as part of a defence reaction against an invading substance (antigen).

Ascites – accumulation of fluid in the cavity which surrounds the bowel, leading to enlarged, swollen and painful abdomen.

AST – Aspartate Aminotransferase, a liver enzyme but less specific to the liver than ALT (see above).

Autoimmune – a type of disease causing the body’s immune system to attack another part of the body.


Bile – a yellow/green fluid made by the liver to help digest foods containing fat and cholesterol.

Bilirubin – a breakdown product of haemoglobin. Increases of bilirubin in the blood can indicate liver disease, especially in disease of the bile ducts.


Cholangiocarcinoma – cancer of the bile ducts.

Cholangitis – inflammation of the bile ducts.

Cholestasis – a condition where the flow of bile from the liver is reduced.

Cirrhosis – where inflammation and fibrosis have spread to disrupt the shape and function of the liver. Even with no signs or symptoms of liver disease, the working capacity of liver cells has been badly impaired and they are unable to repair the liver. This is permanent cell damage and can lead to liver failure or liver cancer.

Chronic – an illness that lasts a long time (more than six months), possibly for the rest of a person’s life.

Co-infection – being infected with more than one virus at the same time.

Compensated disease – where medical treatment has counterbalanced damaged liver function. Decompensated disease is where treatment can no longer counterbalance severely damaged liver function, leading to liver failure.

D - E

ELISA – Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay, a biochemical test used mainly in immunology to detect the presence of an antibody or an antigen in a sample.

Encephalopathy – disturbed brain function leading to mental confusion and memory loss.

Enzyme – a substance, usually a protein, produced by the body to help speed up a chemical reaction (which can be measured with liver function tests).

F - G

Fibrosis – where scar tissue is formed in an inflamed liver. Fibrosis can take a variable time to develop and, even with scar tissue present, the liver keeps on functioning quite well. However, continued building up of scar tissue may lead to cirrhosis.

Fulminant – a type of disease with rapid onset and follows a short, severe course.
Gastroenterologist – a doctor who specialises in treating digestive diseases.

Glycogen – stored in the liver and muscles, glycogen is the way the body stores carbohydrates. It is easily changed back to glucose when the body needs energy quickly.


HAV – Hepatitis A Virus.

HBV – Hepatitis B Virus.

HCC – Hepatocellular Carcinoma, also called hepatoma.  HCC and biliary tree cancer are the two main types of primary liver cancer

HCV – Hepatitis C Virus.

Hepatic – anything relating to the liver.

Hepatic artery – the artery that carries blood to the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, stomach and duodenal portion of the small intestine.

Hepatitis – any inflammation of the liver is known as hepatitis, whether its cause is viral or not. A sudden inflammation of the liver is known as acute hepatitis. Where inflammation of the liver lasts longer than six months the condition is known as chronic hepatitis.

Hepatocyte – a liver cell.

Hepatologist – a doctor who specialises in liver diseases.

Hepatomegaly – enlarged and tender liver.

I - J

Immunoglobulins – large proteins found in body fluids and cell tissues that bind to invading organisms, such as bacteria or viruses, to destroy them.

Inflammation – the first response of the immune system to infection, commonly characterised by heat,swelling, pain and tenderness.

Jaundice – a condition in which the whites of the eyes go yellow and in more severe cases the skin also turns yellow. This is caused by the build-up of bilirubin (containing yellow pigment) which is normally disposed of by the liver.

M - O

ME – Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition in which a person always feels tired without a clear-cut medical reason.

Oesophagus – the gullet. This important part of the digestive system is a tube through which food and liquid travels from the mouth to the stomach.

Oncologist – a doctor who specialises in understanding and treating cancer.

P - R

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) – test that gives a numerical value to your viral load.

Portal vein – the vein that carries blood from the bowel and the spleen to the liver.

Resection – a common form of surgery where part of an organ is removed. In liver cancer, this is where the part of the liver affected by cancer is cut away and removed.

S - T

Seroconversion – a change in the blood test so that something related to the virus appears. This may be an antigen, an antibody or the virus itself.

Stent – a small, thin wire-mesh or plastic tube used when treating obstructions in the bile ducts. Where there is a narrowing (stricture) in the bile duct the doctor will insert a stent to open up the duct to keep it from collapsing.

Tumour markers – substances found in blood, urine or body tissue which may increase if cancer is present or suspected. Alpha-fetoprotein (HFA), for example, is a protein made in the liver that is a tumour marker for liver cancer.

V - Z

Varices – dilated (expanded) and protruding blood vessels that run along the wall under the lining of the upper part of the stomach and lower end of the gullet.

Viral load – the amount of virus in the blood.

Virus – a microscopic particle that infects living cells by getting inside them and replicating. Viruses cannot reproduce by themselves and can only multiply from within the cells of their living host