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Liver Biopsy

(Biopsy of Liver)
  • Definition

    This is a procedure to obtain a sample of your liver tissue.
  • Reasons for Procedure

    Biopsies of the liver are usually done to evaluate:
    • Abnormal blood tests such as elevated liver enzymes, bilirubin, copper, or iron in the blood
    • An enlarged liver
    • The severity of liver diseases
    • The progress of therapy for liver diseases
    • A liver mass
    • The liver after a liver transplant
  • Possible Complications

    Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
    • Pain
    • Bleeding
    • Infection
    • Perforation of the gallbladder or intestines
    • Puncture of the lung
    Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
  • What to Expect

    Prior to Procedure
    Your doctor may do the following:
    • Physical exam
    • Blood tests
    • Ultrasound
    Before your biopsy:
    • Avoid eating or drinking for 8-12 hours.
    • Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure.
    • Arrange for someone to drive you home after the biopsy.
    If local anesthesia is used, then only the area that is being operated on is numbed. It is given as an injection and may also be given with a sedative.
    Description of the Procedure
    There are different techniques used to do a liver biopsy, including:
    • Conventional liver biopsy
    • Laparoscopic liver biopsy—done when the biopsy needs to be taken from a specific area of the liver
    • Transvenous liver biopsy—done if your blood clots poorly or you have a lot of fluid in your abdomen
    Conventional Liver Biopsy
    You will lie on your back with your right hand behind your head. An ultrasound or CT scan may be used to help guide the placement of the needle. The skin will be cleaned. Next, medication will be injected to numb the area. A small incision will be made. You will need to exhale and hold your breath while the needle is inserted. Sometimes, the needle will need to be inserted several times. After the procedure, the area will be bandaged.
    Placement of Liver Biopsy Needle
    Placement of Liver Biopsy Needle
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    Placement of Liver Biopsy Needle
    Placement of Liver Biopsy Needle
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    Laparoscopic Liver Biopsy
    Your doctor will make a tiny incision. A long tool with a camera on the end will be passed into your abdomen in the area of the liver. It will send images of the liver to a TV screen. Additional incisions will be made to pass other tools. These tools will be used to remove samples of the liver.
    Transvenous Liver Biopsy
    A tiny flexible tube will be threaded into a vein in your neck or groin. This tube will be threaded all the way into the veins in your liver. A biopsy needle will be passed through the tube to get a biopsy sample.
    Immediately After Procedure
    You will lie on your right side for at least 2 hours.
    How Long Will It Take?
    About 15-20 minutes
    Will It Hurt?
    You will have mild pain or cramping at the biopsy site. You may also have pain in the right shoulder. The pain should last for less than 30 minutes.
    Postoperative Care
    Rest and avoid driving for at least 24 hours after the surgery. You may have to restrict certain activities, such as heavy lifting, until your doctor says it is okay to do so. Unless unwise advised, you can resume your normal diet.
    The biopsy results will take 1-4 weeks. You and your doctor will discuss the results.
  • Call Your Doctor

    After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
    • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
    • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
    • Severe abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
    • Lightheadedness
    • Severe shoulder pain
    • Trouble breathing, cough, or chest pain
    If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

    American Liver Foundation

    National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse


    Canadian Liver Foundation

    Health Canada


    Liver biopsy. American Liver Foundation website. Available at: Updated October 4, 2011. Accessed May 29, 2013.

    Liver biopsy. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: Updated April 23, 2012. Accessed May 29, 2013.

    6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Mills E, Eyawo O, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.

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