Liver Biopsy

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Appointments by referral only.

A liver biopsy obtains a sample of your liver tissue in order to evaluate:

  • 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 state of your liver after a liver transplant

About the Procedure

A liver biopsy:

  • May require local anesthesia,  given as an injection or with an oral sedative
  • Lasts about 15-20 minutes
  • May cause mild pain or cramping at the biopsy site, and/or pain in your right shoulder; the pain should last less than 30 minutes
  • Test results take 1-2 weeks

Types of Liver Biopsies

We use 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.

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.

Preparing for the Procedure

Before your biopsy:

  • Avoid eating or drinking for 8-12 hours.
  • Talk to your doctor about your medications, as you may need to stop taking:
    • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen
    • Blood thinners
    • Anti-platelet medications
  • Arrange for someone to drive you home after the biopsy.

Liver Biopsy: Patient Education Resources

Liver Biopsy Procedure Information

Information from Digestive Health Center about preparing for liver biopsy.

Liver Biopsy Procedure Information- Spanish

Information from Digestive Health Center about preparing for liver biopsy in Spanish.
Risks & Recovery: Liver Biopsy

Risks of a Liver Biopsy

 Possible complications include:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Perforation of the gallbladder or intestines
  • Puncture of the lung

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Smoking
  • Chronic disease
  • Alcoholism
  • Malnutrition

Postoperative Care

To ensure a smooth recovery:

  • If a sedative was given, do not drive for at least 24 hours.
  • Rest the remainder of the day.
  • Do not exercise or lift heavy objects for at least a week. Ask your doctor when you can resume normal activities.
  • Eat your normal diet.
  • Ask your doctor when you can resume taking your medications.
  • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
  • Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions.

Call 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

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.