Why Do I Need a Liver Biopsy?

Liver biopsies are sometimes performed to help reach an accurate diagnosis for liver problems. This test may also help a doctor estimate the extent of liver damage. This is referred to as staging liver disease. The results of a liver biopsy may also help in the development of treatment for liver damage or disease. The test involves collecting a small sample of tissue from the liver via a thin, hollow tube inserted through the abdomen. A liver biopsy exam takes only a few minutes. It takes just a few seconds to obtain the sample, but may require a few minutes beforehand to locate the most suitable insertion point using ultrasound guidance. 

Why Liver Biopsies May be Necessary

Usually, a liver biopsy is scheduled only after multiple liver function tests have demonstrated abnormality. The test may also be indicated for patients who demonstrate certain symptoms, such as:

  •  Yellowing of the eyes or skin
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dark urine
  • Recurrent, unexplained fever
  • Blood in the stool, tar-colored stool, or pale stool
  • Itchy skin
  • Edema, or swelling in the legs and ankles
  • Bruising easily

What Might a Liver Biopsy Diagnose?

Laboratory evaluation of a sample of liver tissue may help diagnose or observe liver diseases such as:

  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Hepatitis B or C
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Hemochromatosis (iron overload)
  • Wilson’s disease (copper overload)
  • Liver cancer

Preparing for a Liver Biopsy

Before a liver biopsy, patients are instructed to avoid certain medications, especially those that inhibit the body’s blood-clotting mechanism, for approximately one week. Patients should not eat or drink for 8 hours prior to their appointment, and should wear comfortable clothing to our facility. Patients should arrange for someone to accompany them to their appointment, as they cannot drive themselves home. 

What to Expect

Understandably, it can be stressful to undergo a liver biopsy. We find that stress can be significantly reduced by knowing what to expect. For the liver biopsy, the patient lies on their back with their right hand resting above the head. The team administers a local anesthetic to the abdominal area where a small incision will be made. Usually, because the test is so brief, patients do not need general anesthesia or sedation. When the small tube is inserted, the patient may feel pressure, but usually there is no significant pain. Due to the risk of bleeding, patients remain in the facility for a few hours, where staff can monitor blood pressure and heart rate. 

Gramercy Park Digestive Disease Center has two NYC offices to serve you. Contact us to schedule your visit. 

Digestive Disease Treatment + Gastrointestinal Services + Endoscopic Procedures

Accredited by Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, Inc.
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