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Liver Biopsy

Liver Biopsy Facts

For almost a century, physicians have employed liver biopsy to help diagnose the cause and assess the severity of their patients' liver disease. Liver biopsy entails the removal a small piece of tissue from the liver. That piece of tissue is then sent to the pathology laboratory for analysis.

What Are the Reasons for the Liver Biopsy Procedure?

  • Physicians typically employ a broad array of blood tests and imaging studies (for example, CT, MRI scans) in an effort to diagnose a patient's liver disease. In some circumstances, those tests do not lead to a diagnosis. A liver biopsy is a key tool in helping the physician make a correct diagnosis of a patient's underlying liver disease.
  • In some circumstances, a patient's clinical history, blood tests, or imaging studies may strongly suggest a particular diagnosis. Liver biopsy is used to confirm the physician's clinical suspicions. This is particularly important in view of the fact that many liver diseases require life-long therapy. Making a correct diagnosis is critical before committing the patient to a long course of treatment with a particular drug.
  • In other circumstances, blood test results may point to the co-existence of two liver diseases in the same patient at the same time (for example, alcoholic hepatitis as well as chronic hepatitis C). Thus, liver biopsy results may clarify whether a patient is suffering from one or two diseases.
  • Liver biopsy results may be used to monitor the effectiveness of therapy. As an example, a patient under long-term medical therapy for autoimmune hepatitis may require a follow-up liver biopsy to determine whether or not therapy is successful at suppressing the hepatitis.
  • Liver biopsy also can be used to assess the severity of a patient's condition. As an example, a patient's clinical history and laboratory tests might strongly point to a diagnosis of chronic hepatitis C (CHC). Knowledge of the severity of the patient's chronic hepatitis C will help determine whether the patient needs immediate therapy or whether therapy can be deferred to a later date.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/28/2016
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Liver Biopsy Result

A liver biopsy is done using a needle inserted between two of the right lower ribs to remove a sample of liver tissue. The tissue sample is sent to a laboratory and looked at under a microscope to see if there are any liver problems.

  • Samples of liver tissue sent to a pathology lab will be looked at under a microscope for liver diseases such as liver cancer or cirrhosis.
  • Other samples of liver tissue may be sent to a microbiology lab to see whether an infection, such as tuberculosis of the liver, is present.

Test results are generally ready in 2 to 4 days. If tests are done to find infections, it may take several weeks for the results to be ready.


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Percutaneous Liver Biopsy »

Percutaneous liver biopsy is a procedure in which a long needle is introduced through the skin, subcutaneous tissues, intercostal muscles, and peritoneum into the liver to obtain a specimen of liver tissue.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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