Hepatology is the study of the liver and its diseases. It is an emerging medical specialty, with most hepatologists currently being gastroenterologists who have completed a fellowship in hepatology or who have simply taken an interest in the liver. Gastroenterology is the specialty devoted to the digestive system and all of the digestive organs, including the liver as well as the stomach, esophagus, intestines, pancreas, and so on. Some illnesses are specific to the liver, and as our treatment and understanding of them advances, there is enough knowledge to make hepatology its own field.
A patient may be referred to a hepatologist for many conditions, including:
An overdose on drugs that are damaging to the liver
Blood tests suggesting liver damage
Hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, which can be caused by a virus, toxin, or autoimmune disease
Cirrhosis, a type of scar tissue in the liver that is often caused by alcoholism
Hemochromatosis, a condition where your body absorbs too much iron, which damages the liver
Follow-up care after a liver transplant
Outcomes for liver patients tend to be better with a hepatologist than a gastroenterologist. However, hepatologists can be difficult to find outside of larger cities. This may change in the future as more patients seek the specialized care that hepatologists can provide.