Menu   WellSpan Health

Health Library

Health Library

The Biliary System: Anatomy and Functions

Anatomy of the biliary system

The biliary system consists of the organs and ducts (bile ducts, gallbladder, and associated structures) that are involved in the production and transportation of bile.

Illustration of biliary system

The transportation of bile follows this sequence:

  1. When the liver cells secrete bile, it is collected by a system of ducts that flow from the liver through the right and left hepatic ducts.

  2. These ducts ultimately drain into the common hepatic duct.

  3. The common hepatic duct then joins with the cystic duct from the gallbladder to form the common bile duct, which runs from the liver to the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine).

  4. However, not all bile runs directly into the duodenum. About 50 percent of the bile produced by the liver is first stored in the gallbladder, a pear-shaped organ located directly below the liver.

  5. Then, when food is eaten, the gallbladder contracts and releases stored bile into the duodenum to help break down the fats.

Functions of the biliary system

The biliary system's main function includes the following:

  • To drain waste products from the liver into the duodenum

  • To help in digestion with the controlled release of bile

Bile is the greenish-yellow fluid (consisting of waste products, cholesterol, and bile salts) that is secreted by the liver cells to perform two primary functions:

  • To carry away waste

  • To break down fats during digestion

Bile salt is the actual component which helps break down and absorb fats. Bile, which is excreted from the body in the form of feces, is what gives feces its dark brown color.

Biliary System: Anatomy and Functions - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 2014-04-15T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2014-04-23T00:00:00
Posting Date: 2008-11-30T00:00:00
Published Date: 2014-04-23T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2007-03-30T00:00:00
© 2015 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

I would like to:

Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.


Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.