Liver biopsy

What is a liver biopsy? 

A liver biopsy is a procedure to remove a small piece of tissue from your liver using a needle. The procedure is performed by a radiologist (doctor who specialises in x-rays and scans).

Are there any alternatives to a liver biopsy?

A blood test or scan may show that you have a problem. However, a biopsy will help to find out exactly what is causing the problem and will help your doctor decide the best treatment for you.

What does the procedure involve?

The two commonly-used techniques are ultrasound-guided liver biopsy and transjugular liver biopsy.

• Ultrasound-guided liver biopsy

Your doctor will make a small cut in the skin on your right side, usually between your lower ribs, and then place the needle through the cut and into your liver to remove a small piece of tissue (see figure 1).

Liver biopsy 

They will use an ultrasound scan to guide them while they perform the biopsy.

• Transjugular liver biopsy

Your doctor will make a small cut in the skin on the right side of your neck and then place a catheter into your jugular vein. They will use the x-ray machine to help them guide the tube through your veins until it reaches your liver. When the tube reaches your liver, your doctor will pass a needle down the tube to remove a small piece of tissue.

What complications can happen?

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Biliary peritonitis
  • Making a hole in nearby structures with the needle
  • Allergic reaction

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home the same day.

You should be able to go back to work the day after the procedure unless you are told otherwise but avoid strenuous exercise for the first 24 hours.

A member of the healthcare team may ask you to come back to the clinic to discuss with you any treatment or follow-up you need.


A liver biopsy is usually a safe and effective way of finding out if you have a problem with your liver.

Paying for your procedure

Liver biopsy costs are covered by most medical insurance policies, but please check with your insurer first. If you are paying for your own procedure the cost will be explained and confirmed in writing when you book the procedure. Ask the hospital for a quote beforehand, and ensure that this includes the surgeon’s fee, the anaesthetist’s fee and the hospital charge for your procedure.


Author: Dr Craig Jobling FRCS (Ed) FRCR, Dr Simon Whitaker MRCP FRCR and Mrs Samantha Gamble RGN

Illustrations: LifeART image copyright 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2010 Nucleus Medical Art. This information is produced by EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by BMI Healthcare. You may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information other than for your personal, non-commercial use. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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