A liver biopsy is a diagnostic procedure used to determine either the extent of injury in the liver or the cause of liver injury. Liver biopsies are performed by doctors from the University of Michigan, which has been ranked first among Michigan hospitals for gastroenterology, according to U.S. News & World Report.
How Is a Liver Biopsy Performed?
For the most common type of liver biopsy, called percutaneous liver biopsy, a small incision is made in the abdomen, a thin needle is inserted through the abdomen into the liver, and then a small piece of tissue is removed for examination under a microscope. The doctor may use ultrasound or another imaging technique to locate the liver.
Before beginning the procedure, which takes place at our Medical Procedures Unit, you will receive a local anesthetic (numbing medicine) at the site of the biopsy. Patients do not routinely receive sedation for liver biopsies. You will lie on your back for the biopsy. During the procedure, you may feel pressure but pain should be minimal.
While the procedure only takes 5 seconds, expect your visit to last 2 to 4 hours to allow for preparation, follow-up with the doctor, and observation for any bleeding or pain.
You may be asked to stop taking certain medications for at least a week before the procedure particularly blood thinners like warfarin or anti-platelet agents like aspirin or plavix. Blood is drawn prior to the biopsy to determine its clotting ability. A medicine may be given to help with clotting. A light or liquid breakfast is allowed the morning of the biopsy. You must have a licensed driver of at least 18 years old accompany you even though you are not sedated.
If your blood does not clot fast enough, you may require a different procedure called a transvenous liver biopsy, where the biopsy needle is threaded into the liver using a tiny tube inserted in the jugular vein of the neck. This type of biopsy requires sedation, but patients still go home the same day.
If a tissue sample is required from a particular area or multiple areas in the liver, you may require a procedure called a laparoscopic liver biopsy. For this type of biopsy, a small incision is made in the abdomen to insert an endoscope, which is a lighted, flexible tube, about the thickness of a finger. The biopsy needle is passed through the endoscope to obtain the tissue sample(s). This type of biopsy requires sedation, but patients still go home the same day.
Why Do I Need a Liver Biopsy?
Biopsies are done for many reasons and don’t necessarily imply cancer. Liver biopsies allow your doctor to:
- Diagnose liver diseases, including cirrhosis, Wilson’s disease, autoimmune hepatitis, fatty liver disease and hepatitis B or C
- Determine the stage of liver disease based on the severity of damage or scar tissue in the liver
- Monitor the liver following a liver transplant
- Create a treatment plan
- Take a sample tissue from an abnormality (growth)
What Are the Potential Complications from a Liver Biopsy?
A liver biopsy is generally very safe. Pain at the site of the biopsy is common and 1 out of 3 patients receive medication for pain in the recovery room. Rare complications include infection, excessive bleeding, and piercing a nearby organ with the needle.
What Happens After a Liver Biopsy?
After the procedure, you will be taken to a recovery room where your driver can join you and you will receive discharge instructions. The doctor who performed the procedure will explain the preliminary results to you and give the complete results to the doctor who ordered your procedure. Biopsy results will not be available for about a week.
Make an Appointment
To make an appointment for a liver biopsy or other GI procedure, call the University of Michigan Medical Procedures Unit at 877-758-2626.