What is a Liver Biopsy?

A liver biopsy is a procedure where a small piece of the liver is removed so it can be examined with a microscope for signs of damage or disease.

This tissue is prepared and stained in the pathology laboratory. A pathologist can then view it under a microscope. By so doing, the pathologist can often make a specific diagnosis and determine the extent and seriousness of the condition. This information is often vital in determining the treatment.

Benefits & Risks

In most instances, a liver biopsy is obtained quickly and with no problems. As noted, there is occasionally some temporary discomfort in the right side or shoulder. Internal bleeding can sometimes occur as can a leak of bile from the liver or gallbladder. These problems are usually handled without the need for surgery.

What to Expect

A liver biopsy is usually performed as an outpatient procedure, and typically takes about 15-20 minutes. A radiologist uses ultrasound or CT imaging guidance to identify the best location to make the biopsy. The patient lies quietly on the back or slightly to the left side. The skin is carefully cleaned. A local anesthetic agent like lidocaine is used to numb the skin and tissue below. A specially designed thin needle is inserted through the skin. At this point, the physician will instruct the patient on how to breathe. The needle is quickly advanced into and out of the liver, taking only 1-2 seconds. A slender core of tissue is obtained, which is then processed through the laboratory.

After the procedure, you’ll be kept at rest for several hours following the exam with medical personnel checking your heart rate and blood pressure. You may experience some discomfort in the chest or shoulder, but this subsides soon after. Your doctor will provide instructions regarding activity and eating. Activity is usually restricted for a day or so.