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Liver Biopsy

How It Feels

You may feel a brief sting or burn when the numbing medicine (anesthetic) goes in your skin. When the biopsy needle is inserted, you may again feel a sharp pain for a few seconds.

You may feel deep pressure and a dull pain in your belly when the biopsy needle is inserted. After the anesthetic wears off, you may feel a dull pain in your right shoulder. This is called referred pain and generally goes away in about 12 hours. You can take a nonprescription medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), for the pain. Call your doctor if your pain gets worse or lasts longer than 2 days.

A small amount of bleeding from the biopsy site can be expected. Ask your doctor how much drainage to expect.

Risks

Serious problems from a liver biopsy are rare. Problems can include:

After the test

After the test, call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you develop:

After the test, call your doctor immediately if you have:

  • A lot of bleeding from the needle site.
  • A fast or skipping heartbeat.
  • A fever.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Increasing pain at the needle site.
  • Blood in your stool.
  • Swelling or bloating in your belly.

Results

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.

  • Samples of liver tissue sent to a pathology lab will be looked at under a microscope for liver diseases such as liver cancer or cirrhosis.
  • Other samples of liver tissue may be sent to a microbiology lab to see whether an infection, such as tuberculosis of the liver, is present.

Test results are generally ready in 2 to 4 days. If tests are done to find infections, it may take several weeks for the results to be ready.

Liver biopsy
Normal:

The liver tissue looks normal under a microscope. No signs of infection, inflammation, cancer, or cirrhosis are present.

Abnormal:

Abnormal cells or liver tissue are present. This may be caused by an infection such as hepatitis, liver disease such as cirrhosis, or cancer. If liver cancer is present, the biopsy can help find the type of cancer. If hepatitis is present, the test can be used to see the chance of developing cirrhosis. Test results may also show the severity of cirrhosis.

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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