What is a liver biopsy?
A liver biopsy involves removing small pieces of tissue from your liver using a needle. The procedure is performed by a radiologist a (doctor who specialises in x-rays and scans) or a gastroenterologist (a doctor who specialises in the digestive system).
What are the benefits of a liver biopsy?
Your doctor is concerned that there may be a problem with your liver. Your doctor will tell you which of the following problems is most likely in your case.
- Inflammation (hepatitis)
- A tumour
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 to recommend the best treatment for you.
What does the procedure involve?
A liver biopsy usually takes less than 30 minutes. Your doctor will inject local anaesthetic into the area where the needle will be inserted. 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 on the skin on your right side, usually between your lower ribs. They will insert the needle through the cut and into your liver to remove a small piece of tissue. They will often use an ultrasound scan to guide them while they perform the biopsy.
Transjugular liver biopsy
Your doctor will make a small cut on your skin on the right side of your neck and then insert a catheter (tube) into your jugular vein. They will use x-rays to help them guide the tube through your veins.
When the tube reaches your liver, your doctor will pass a needle down the tube and into your liver. Your doctor will ask you to hold your breath while they remove a small piece of tissue.
What complications can happen?
Like all surgical procedures, there are some levels of risks to consider. Some of these can be serious and can even cause death. However, you can speak to your doctor about the following general and specific complications that may worry you.
- Inflammation of the lining of your abdomen
- 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 return to work the next day unless you are told otherwise. Do not do strenuous exercise for 1 to 2 days. The healthcare team will discuss with you any treatment or follow-up you need.
With regular exercise should improve your long-term health. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
A liver biopsy is usually a safe and effective way of finding out if there is a problem with your liver. To find out more, call us on 0808 101 0337.
Authors: Dr Simon Whitaker MRCP FRCR, Mrs Samantha Gamble RGN
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