Liver Biopsy

Getting a Tissue Sample for Microscope Examination

A biopsy is a procedure to take a small piece of tissue from your liver for examination under a microscope. Usually your doctor inserts a thin needle through the skin in your abdomen into your liver to remove the tissue in the needle.

Your doctor may recommend a liver biopsy if another test has shown you may have a possible liver condition. Liver specialists (hepatologists) at University Health System often use biopsy to check for liver conditions such as:

  • Cirrhosis
  • Hepatitis C
  • Infection
  • Jaundice
  • Liver disease caused by prescription and other drugs
  • Portal hypertension

You also may have a biopsy to check the severity of your existing liver disease or how your liver is responding to medication therapy. This information will help you know what to expect leading up to and during a liver biopsy.

Pre-Biopsy – One Week Before

Your doctor or a nurse will provide you with instructions to prepare for your liver biopsy, including having blood drawn. You will also receive instructions to stop using these medications a week before your biopsy:

  • Aspirin
  • Alka-Seltzer (an antacid)
  • Bufferin (aspirin plus antacid)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Midol, Nuprin)
  • Iron pills
  • Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)

Pre-Biopsy – The Night Before

Your doctor or a nurse will provide instructions to follow in the hours leading up to your biopsy, including the following:

  • Don’t eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your test.
  • On the morning of your test, you can take routine medications your doctor has approved with a sip of water.
  • Don’t take any medications for diabetes.

Liver Biopsy Procedure

You’ll feel more prepared for your biopsy if you know what will happen. Be sure to bring along an adult who can drive you home or you won’t be able to have the procedure. Then, expect to follow these steps before, during and after your biopsy:

  • Before the procedure, you will change into a hospital gown.
  • Your doctor or a nurse will explain your procedure, answers questions and ask you to sign a consent form.
  • You will be taken to a procedure room and given a sedative.
  • You will then be positioned on your back with your right arm under your head.
  • Your biopsy team will explain how to breathe during the procedure.
  • Your abdomen will be marked for the biopsy and cleaned with a medication to reduce the chance of infection.
  • The area will be numbed with an injection of local anesthetic, which feels like a bee sting.
  • Your doctor will insert a needle into your abdomen, which may feel like a sharp pain to your right side.

The entire procedure typically takes about 15 minutes. You will then remain in a recovery area for several hours to make sure you don’t have any bleeding. You can go home when your vital signs are stable and you can drink liquids. However, you shouldn’t lift anything heavier than a phone book for one week.