How Serious Is a Liver Biopsy?

A liver biopsy can be performed in an outpatient setting.
A liver biopsy can be performed in an outpatient setting.

A liver biopsy can be performed in an outpatient setting. In the hands of an experienced doctor, it rarely produces complications. Mild pain in the upper right abdomen that goes away within a few hours is the most common complication of a liver biopsy.

In rare cases, internal bleeding may occur, as well as a leak of the bile from the liver or gallbladder. Very occasionally, there might be a risk of a collapsed lung or pneumothorax if the biopsy needle makes a hole in the chest wall causing air entrapment.

Other uncommon complications of liver biopsy include:

  • Infection that may lead to sepsis
  • Hemothorax (pooling of the blood in the space between the lungs and chest wall)
  • Injury to other organs

Call the physician immediately if the following symptoms are observed:

What is a liver biopsy?

A liver biopsy is a medical procedure in which a needle is inserted into the liver to remove a small piece of the liver tissue and examine it for signs of disease or damage.

There are different types of liver biopsy based on the sample of the liver tissue taken, which include:

  • Percutaneous liver biopsy: In this type, the doctor inserts a needle through the skin in the upper part of the abdomen to extract a small piece of the liver tissue.
  • Transjugular liver biopsy: In this type, the doctor inserts a needle into the jugular vein (vein of the neck) and passes it to the liver to extract a small piece of the tissue.
  • Surgical liver biopsy: The doctor may perform a liver biopsy during other surgeries.

Why is a liver biopsy performed?

A liver biopsy is performed to identify:

  • Liver diseases when a doctor can’t confirm a diagnosis with blood or imaging tests.
  • The extent or severity of liver disease (staging of the disease).
  • The best treatment protocol for liver disease.
  • How treatment for liver disease is working.
  • A mass or a tumor in the liver.

How does a physician perform a liver biopsy?

The doctor performs a liver biopsy at a hospital. It may be done during surgery or in an outpatient setting.

Percutaneous liver biopsy: Doctors may use an ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan to find the best place to insert a needle in the abdomen. The doctor may make an opening on the right side of the abdomen and insert the special biopsy needle or biopsy gun. Next, the physician may remove a piece of the liver tissue with the biopsy needle or gun. After the biopsy, the doctor will place a bandage on the opening.

Transjugular liver biopsy: The doctor uses an ultrasound to locate the jugular vein in the neck. During the procedure, the physician may use fluoroscopy (an imaging technique) to view the veins between the neck and liver. The physician makes a cut over the side of the neck and uses a needle to make a small hole in the jugular vein. Next, the physician inserts a thin, flexible tube or catheter through the veins to the liver. A biopsy needle is guided through the catheter to remove the liver tissue. After the biopsy, the doctor closes the incision.


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