Liver Biopsy

Liver biopsy is a procedure used to collect a small piece of liver tissue, so it can be looked at under a microscope. Most people with cirrhosis don’t need a liver biopsy, but there are some situations where it is recommended.

The Procedure

Liver biopsy is usually done by inserting a needle into the liver. The doctor decides the best spot by examining your abdomen and chest. Ultrasound might also be used to chose the spot. This is called ultrasound guided liver biopsy. Freezing medicine is usually injected under the skin to make the area numb. Then the doctor inserts the biopsy needle into the liver and removes a small piece of liver tissue.

If you have significant problems with blood clotting, the biopsy can be done by inserting a small tube (called a catheter) through the jugular vein in your neck. The biopsy needle is then guided to the liver through the catheter and a small piece of liver tissue is removed. This is called transjugular liver biopsy.

Some people have no pain with liver biopsy. Others have brief pain that may spread to the right shoulder. After it’s collected, the piece of liver tissue is placed in a container and set to the lab to be looked at by a doctor called a pathologist.

After the Procedure

After this biopsy, the team will check on you often. You’ll probably stay in the recovery area for a few hours. Most people are able to go home the same day. You should make arrangements for a responsible adult to take you home.

After you go home, rest and drink lots of water. Ask the healthcare team when it is safe for you to remove the dressing from your skin and when you can shower. For at least 7 days, don’t do heavy exercise (like running) and don’t lift more than 10lbs (4.5 kg). You can still do gentle activity, like walking, each day. Don’t take baths or go swimming until the site is completely healed.

Watch for signs of bleeding or infection, like fever, new or worsening pain, and dizziness. Call your doctor or nurse right away if you have any of these symptoms.

Risks and Side Effects

The main risk of liver biopsy is bleeding. To reduce your risk of bleeding, your healthcare team will check your blood clotting before the procedure. If you are at higher risk of bleeding, they may give you medicine or blood products to lower your risk.

Other risks include damage to organs, such as the kidney, lung, gallbladder or colon and infection. The risk of death from liver biopsy is extremely low.

References:

The information on this page was adapted (with permission) from the references below, by the Cirrhosis Care Alberta project team (physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, registered dietitians, physiotherapists, pharmacists, and patient advisors).

This information is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare team. They know your medical situation best. Always follow your healthcare team’s advice.

References: 

  1. US Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration 
  2. Canadian Liver Foundation
Last reviewed March 15, 2021
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