A liver biopsy is a diagnostic tool used to detect abnormalities of the liver such as cancer or hepatitis. A small sample of liver tissue is removed through the skin with a needle so it can be tested for signs of disease or injury. Usually a liver biopsy will be performed if other procedures (such as blood tests or x-rays) or symptoms indicate that there is an abnormality in the liver function or appearance.
Risks from the procedure include infection, bleeding, pain, and puncture of the lung or gallbladder, but these complications are rare.
What to Expect
You should plan to stop eating or drinking approximately eight hours before your procedure is scheduled. Be sure to discuss your medical history, current medications, and any allergies (especially to pain medications and antibiotics) with your doctor. You may need to discontinue some medications such as aspirin and blood thinners up to a week before the procedure.
Liver biopsies are generally performed at a hospital on an outpatient basis. In the most common biopsy method, you will lie on your back and your physician will mark the location of your liver on your abdomen and give you a local anesthetic. In some cases, an ultrasound will be used to pinpoint the location any suspected abnormalities or tumors. While you hold your breath and stay very still, the doctor will insert a needle into the liver and remove a small section of liver tissue. It is important to not to move during the insertion so that the needle does not accidentally nick nearby organs like the lungs and gallbladder. The needle will be removed quickly, and pressure applied to the area to stop bleeding. The insertion site will be bandaged and the procedure is complete.
Transvenous biopsy is an alternate form of the procedure. A catheter (or small tube) is inserted into a vein in the neck and down to the liver. A needle is then threaded through the catheter to remove a tissue sample from the liver. This method is useful for patients who have blood clotting problems.
When the biopsy is completed, you will be kept for observation for a couple of hours then discharged. You must have someone else drive you home from the procedure. Generally you will need to stay in bed and rest for eight to 12 hours after the biopsy, and should avoid strenuous activity for the next week in order to let the incision and liver heal. You may experience some pain and discomfort at the biopsy sight, but this is generally mild and temporary.
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