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Liver Biopsy

A liver biopsy is done using a needle inserted between two of the right lower ribs to remove a sample of liver tissue. The tissue sample is sent to a laboratory and looked at under a microscope to see if there are any liver problems.

A liver biopsy may be done when liver blood tests are abnormal. It may be done when an X-ray, an ultrasound, or a computed tomography (CT) scan shows a problem with the liver. A liver biopsy can also be done to find the cause of jaundice or to check on cirrhosis, hepatitis, or liver cancer.

Why It Is Done

A liver biopsy may be done to:

  • Find the cause of jaundice. A liver biopsy can find certain liver diseases (such as cirrhosis), infections (such as hepatitis), and liver tumors.
  • Find the cause of abnormal blood test results from aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT) tests. Both ALT and AST levels show liver damage and can help confirm liver disease.
  • See how much the liver is inflamed or scarred by hepatitis or other liver diseases.
  • See whether other liver conditions, such as hemochromatosis and Wilson's disease, are present.
  • Check the response to treatment for liver disease.
  • Determine whether a medicine, such as methotrexate, is causing a toxic effect on the liver.
  • Check the function of a transplanted liver.
  • Find the cause of an unexplained and ongoing fever.
  • Check a liver mass found on an X-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan.

How To Prepare

Before you have a liver biopsy, tell your doctor if you:

If you take insulin, check with your doctor about what you need to take on the day of your test.

You will be asked to sign a consent form that says you understand the risks of the test and agree to have it done.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

Arrange for someone to drive you home after the test because you may be given a sedative to help you relax.

You will have blood tests done before the liver biopsy to see whether you have any bleeding or blood clotting problems. You may also have an ultrasound test or CT scan of the liver to check the best place to insert the biopsy needle.

Do not eat or drink for 10 hours before the test unless your doctor says it is okay. You will empty your bladder before the test.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 13, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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