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Liver Biopsy

What is a liver biopsy?

A biopsy is the removal of very small pieces of tissue from a body organ, so that a pathologist doctor may examine under the microscope, to identify various types of disease.

In the case of liver diseases, there are two general reasons for doing a liver biopsy. The first is when blood tests indicate that the liver is not functioning properly, a biopsy is done of a randomly chosen part of the liver, assuming that all parts of the liver are equally affected.  On the other hand, there may be one or more lumps or masses in the liver, and one of these may be chosen for biopsy. The information gained by having a pathologist examine liver tissue is used to name the disease (diagnosis) and determine appropriate treatment.  

How should I prepare?

You may be instructed not to eat or drink for several hours before the procedure. You will be instructed not to take blood thinners or aspirin for a specific number of days before a biopsy. However, you may take your usual medications with sips of water. If you are diabetic and take insulin, discuss with your doctor whether to adjust your insulin dose.

Inform your doctor of all medications you are taking, and any allergies to medications or to latex. Women should always inform their physician if there is a possibility they may be pregnant.

You may want to have a responsible friend or relative to accompany you and drive you home afterward. This will be required if sedation is to be given.

How is the procedure performed?

Most often, a liver biopsy is done using ultrasound to guide the placement of the local anesthesia and the biopsy needle. Occasionally CT guidance is required, particularly if the biopsy is being done for a liver mass.  The patient is usually lying flat. During the procedure, the safe path is found, the skin is cleansed with antiseptic, and local anesthetic is infiltrated along the path of the biopsy needle. A single needle is placed into the liver, and then samples are removed through that needle up to four times, to get enough tissue for the pathologist to analyze. The needle is then removed. The patient is monitored while lying flat after the procedure for two to three hours.  

What will I experience during and after the procedure?

You will be asked to remove clothing above the waist and wear a gown. You will be positioned on a stretcher, or on a CT table. Placement of the biopsy needle should then be painless. You will have to be motionless for up to 30 minutes, breathing normally. You will be asked to avoid coughing. After the needle is removed and a sterile dressing applied, you will be monitored by our nursing staff. If the path of the biopsy is close to your ribs, you may feel an aching pain in your right shoulder. Inform the nurse if you develop any pain in your abdomen after the biopsy.

Avoid strenuous exertion or distant travel for 24 hours. Signs of internal bleeding from a liver biopsy include new abdominal pain after the biopsy, feeling faint, or rapid pulse rate. If you develop these symptoms, go to the nearest emergency room and inform the emergency physician of your recent liver biopsy.

How will I get my results?

The pathology results will be available in about three to four business days after the procedure. They will be available to your physician.

Please contact your referring physician if you have not received these results after one week.

What are the benefits and risks?

Needle biopsy is a reliable and accurate way to determine the nature of liver disease, or whether a liver mass is benign or malignant, and to decide what course of treatment is necessary. Needle biopsy is safer and easier to tolerate than surgical biopsy, and the recovery time is brief.

There are some risks:  About one percent (one out of a hundred) of patients who undergo a liver biopsy will have significant internal bleeding that requires a transfusion. Rarely, another treatment or procedure is required if bleeding continues. In a very small percentage of biopsies, the tissue obtained may not be sufficient to give a diagnosis, usually a biopsy done on a small liver mass. In that case a biopsy may be repeated.

Radiologyinfo.org for Patients

The radiology information resource for patients. RadiologyInfo.org tells you how various X-ray, CT, MRI, ultrasound, radiation therapy and other procedures are performed. It also addresses what you may experience and how to prepare for the exams. The website contains over 200 procedure, exam and disease descriptions covering diagnostic and interventional radiology, nuclear medicine, radiation therapy and radiation safety and is updated frequently with new information. All material on the RadiologyInfo.org website is reviewed and approved by experts in the field of radiology from the ACR and RSNA, as well as other professional radiology organizations.

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