A biopsy of liver tissue can give your doctor the most clear picture as to the health of your liver. In this procedure, a medical professional will use a special needle to collect a small sample of liver tissue to be evaluated for liver disease and other signs of liver damage. For anyone living with a chronic disease of the liver including Hepatitis C, it can be very useful in establishing the degree of damage or, in some cases, help your doctor find the cause of your liver problems if they were not previously determined. A liver biopsy is not necessary for everyone. However, if it is recommended you have a liver biopsy performed, the results will help direct future treatment options.
A liver biopsy is performed in the hospital. During this medical procedure, the medical provider will instruct the patient to lie flat on their back. Then the doctor will determine the safest place on the patient’s body to perform the procedure, locating a space between ribs on the right side. Once the skin has been properly cleaned, the patient will receive an injection of a local anesthetic. When the area is sufficiently numb, a special, thin biopsy needle will be inserted in this space, collecting a small sample of liver tissue.
The biopsy itself is usually fairly painless and quick, with most people only reporting mild discomfort from the procedure. Generally it is the shot from the anesthetic that people note- otherwise people have reported feeling pressure as the biopsy is being performed at the site where the needle is inserted as well as some people reporting pressure in their right shoulder.
After the Procedure
Once the liver tissue sample has been collected, the doctor will instruct the patient to roll onto their side and stay still for a period of 1-2 hours. This provides pressure on the biopsy site which will help prevent bleeding or other issues from moving around too soon after the procedure. The doctor may also follow up with additional blood tests to confirm there is no internal bleeding. Once the doctor feels the patient is sufficiently healed, the patient can go home. It will take time for the body to fully heal after the biopsy, so please follow the doctor’s orders- hard exercise and heavy lifting are not recommended for 2 weeks after the procedure.
As with every other medical procedure, there are some potential risks to be aware of. These may include:
- Some pain at the biopsy site
- Internal bleeding at the liver
- Rarely, another organ can be punctured during the biopsy
- Death (which is very rare, only one out of 10,000 cases)
Prior to scheduling the liver biopsy, be sure your doctor is aware of all medicine you are currently taking or that you may be taking in the near future. Blood thinning medications such as aspirin should not be taken the week before or after the procedure. If the liver disease has impacted your blood’s ability to clot, you should not have a liver biopsy performed as this severely increases the chances of complications.