Liver Biopsy

This document will give you information about a liver biopsy. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

What is a liver biopsy?

A liver biopsy is a procedure to remove a small piece of tissue from your liver using a needle. The procedure is performed by a radiologist (doctor who specialises in x-rays and scans).

Are there any alternatives to a liver biopsy?

A blood test or scan may show that you have a problem. However, a biopsy will help to find out exactly what is causing the problem and will help your doctor decide the best treatment for you.

What does the procedure involve?

  • Ultrasound-guided liver biopsy

Your doctor will make a small cut in the skin on your right side, usually between your lower ribs, and then place the needle through the cut and into your liver to remove a small piece of tissue (see figure 1). They will use an ultrasound scan to guide them while they perform the biopsy.

Liver biopsy

  • Transjugular liver biopsy

Your doctor will make a small cut in the skin on the right side of your neck and then place a catheter into your jugular vein. They will use the x-ray machine to help them guide the tube through your veins until it reaches your liver. When the tube reaches your liver, your doctor will pass a needle down the tube to remove a small piece of tissue.

What complications can happen?

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Biliary peritonitis
  • Making a hole in nearby structures with the needle
  • Allergic reaction
  • Infection

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home the same day. 

You should be able to go back to work the day after the procedure unless you are told otherwise but do not do any strenuous exercise for the first 24 hours. 

A member of the healthcare team may ask you to come back to the clinic to discuss with you any treatment or follow-up you need.

Summary

A liver biopsy is usually a safe and effective way of finding out if you have a problem with your liver.

Acknowledgements

Author: Dr Craig Jobling FRCS (Ed) FRCR, Dr Simon Whitaker MRCP FRCR and Mrs Samantha Gamble RGN

Illustrations: LifeART image copyright 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. All rights reserved.

This document is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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