Liver Biopsy


What is a liver biopsy?

During a liver biopsy, a small piece of liver tissue is removed and examined under a microscope for signs of damage or disease.

When is a liver biopsy necessary?

A liver biopsy can be performed for several reasons. Your doctor may recommend a biopsy if blood tests or imaging techniques indicate that you may have a liver problem. A liver biopsy can also be used to assess the extent of liver disease, which in turn helps guide the treatment approach.

How is a liver biopsy performed?

The majority of liver biopsies are performed in a hospital setting on an outpatient basis. You’ll arrive at the hospital early in the morning. The doctor will order blood tests. We’ll know your blood type beforehand and have blood reserved in the event that a transfusion is necessary. The right side of your chest will be thoroughly cleaned and numbed using a local anesthetic. Liver tissue is obtained twice using a long fine needle. A bandage is applied to the site. You’ll lie on your right side for about two hours and on your back for two hours. After 4-6 hours, blood will be drawn. Your doctor will compare this blood sample with the sample collected prior to the biopsy. If it is determined that no bleeding has occurred, you’ll be discharged. You should rest the reminder of the day, and have easy access to a nearby hospital.

Some liver biopsies are performed by a radiologist who utilizes a CT scan or an ultrasound to guide the needle. Individuals with a bleeding disorder may have a transjugular liver biopsy. During the procedure, a catheter is inserted into the jugular vein and into the heptic vein, which is a large vein in the liver. A dye is inserted through the catheter, and a series of X-ray images are taken. Based on the images, a needle is threaded through the catheter, and one or more samples of liver tissue are removed. On rare occasions liver tissue samples are retrieved through an incision in the abdomen (laparoscopic biopsy). Your doctor will determine the best method for you.

What are the risks associated with a liver biopsy?

When performed by one of our board certified gastroenterologists, a liver biopsy is a safe procedure. Possible complications include mild pain at the biopsy site or in the upper right shoulder, which can be relieved with Tylenol. Excessive bleeding is the most serious risk of the procedure. A blood transfusion may be necessary. In addition, surgery may be required to stop the bleeding. In rare cases, an injury to the gallbladder, kidney or colon may occur.

What happens after a liver biopsy?

You can resume normal activities the day after the procedure. A pathologist skilled in liver diseases will closely analyze the tissue, and provide the results of the analysis to your doctor who will use this information to diagnose and treat your condition.