What is a Hepatologist?

In South Africa, a Hepatologist is a Gastroenterologist (see “What is a Gastroenterologist“) who specializes in liver diseases.

The liver is the body’s largest organ and hepatology is a large field. It includes, but is not limited to, the study of acute and chronic hepatitis, viral hepatitis, cirrhosis, genetic and metabolic liver diseases and their complications, liver cancer, liver transplantation, drug metabolism (which depends largely upon the liver), and immunology as it pertains to the liver.

Historically, hepatology grew out of gastroenterology and so became a subfield of it, although today it appears to be emerging as a freestanding medical specialty. The hepato- part comes from the Latin hepaticus derived from the Greek hepatikos meaning (not too surprisingly) the liver. The -logy part comes from the Greek logos meaning the study of, or field.

Dr. Sheila Sherlock (1918-2001), was a pioneer in the science of liver disease, is considered the “mother of hepatology.” Her book, “Diseases of the Liver and Biliary System” which she first published in 1955, was the first standard textbook on clinical liver disease. In 1959 she became the first woman to become a professor of medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London, where she set up and directed a world famous clinical, research and training center on liver disease.

Hepatologists usually do their own liver biopsies with ultrasound guidance and the interpretation of the results of the biopsies.

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