What is a skin biopsy, and why is it done?
A skin biopsy is an easy and minimally invasive procedure that lets doctors examine the small sensory nerves in the skin. These nerves pass on information about pain and temperature. These types of nerves are often involved in certain kinds of peripheral nerve damage (neuropathies). The test lets doctors find the nerves and see how many of them there are and if they are healthy. In general, when the nerves are damaged, the number of nerves shows up as abnormal under a microscope.
How is a skin biopsy done?
A skin biopsy is a very simple outpatient procedure that takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Typically, the biopsies are done at three places on the leg: above the outer ankle, above the outer knee and the outer thigh.
- First, the areas are thoroughly cleaned with an antiseptic solution.
- A small injection of a local anesthetic (lidocaine) is used to numb the area where the biopsy will be taken. This may feel like a bee sting and only lasts for a few seconds. The skin is then checked for numbness.
- An instrument called a biopsy punch is used to remove a small sample of skin.
- Lastly, bandage dressings are used to cover the biopsy sites. Generally, the skin heals easily within one to two weeks without the need for stitches. The risk of bleeding or infection is extremely low.
The biopsy itself does not hurt, but getting the shot of local anesthetic before the biopsy usually causes a mild stinging sensation lasting a few seconds. After the biopsy, the skin heals rapidly within a few days and the healing site is almost never uncomfortable or painful.
What should I look for at the biopsy site?
Before the biopsy, you will get detailed instructions about how to care for the healing biopsy site. It generally takes about a week for the biopsy to heal over and seal. The redness of the biopsy site will fade gradually over a few weeks or months. The doctor who referred you will get the results.
- Lauria G, Devigili G. Skin biopsy as a diagnostic tool in peripheral neuropathy. Nat Clin Pract Neurol. 2007;3(10):546-57.
- Shields, Jr., RW, Peripheral Neuropathy. In: Carey WD, ed. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine 2010. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010
- Myers MI, Peltier AC. Uses of skin biopsy for sensory and autonomic nerve assessment. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2013;13(1):323.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/4/2013…#15305