The liver is essential for digestion because it secretes bile, which breaks down fats into fatty acids, and also removes alcohol and toxins from the body. If the liver becomes fatty, hardens due to scarring (cirrhosis), or develops cancer, its functions will be compromised and this could lead to more severe conditions, including jaundice and enlarged liver.
By taking a small sample of liver tissue and examining it under a microscope, a medical team can determine the cause of liver disease and the extent of damage to the organ. This process is called a biopsy.
The liver sample is taken using a small needle. The gastroenterologist begins by locating the suspect area of the liver, often with the aid of an ultrasound (an imaging device that produces pictures by bouncing soundwaves off of hard objects, such as hardened liver tissue). The skin above the area to be biopsied is cleaned and numbed with a local anesthetic, or pain reliever. The doctor then makes a tiny incision in the skin and inserts the needle into this opening to take the sample. The patient will not feel this.
The gastroenterologist will likely give a sedative for this procedure, so fasting will be required and the patient should arrange for a ride home. The patient should provide the doctor with a complete list of current medications and avoid taking aspirin and anti-inflammatory medications a week to 10 days before the biopsy is taken. These medicines could promote bleeding after the biopsy (the doctor will provide a list). The patient will remain in recovery, and for observation, for up to four hours after the procedure and should be able to return home within six hours.
Conditions treated or diagnosed by this procedure: