What is a liver biopsy?

A liver biopsy is a procedure in which a small needle is inserted into the liver to collect a very small sample. The liver sample is then analyzed in a laboratory to help doctors diagnose diseases or disorders in the liver.

What does the liver do?

The liver is located in the right upper side of the abdomen, behind the lower part of the rib cage. The liver is the largest solid organ in the body. It performs many functions, including:

  • Making proteins that help with blood clotting, carrying oxygen and helping the immune system.
  • Detoxifying the body from harmful substances in the bloodstream, including drugs and alcohol.
  • Breaking down saturated fat and producing cholesterol.
  • Storing nutrients and returning them to the bloodstream.
  • Manufacturing bile, a substance needed to help digest food.
  • Helping the body store sugar (glucose) in the form of glycogen.

Why is a liver biopsy performed?

A liver biopsy is often performed to determine how much damage the liver has sustained by assessing the stage of fibrosis (thickening or scarring). (Fibrosis has four stages; F1, F2, F3 and F4.)

A liver biopsy can also be performed to help identify the cause of:

  • Abnormal levels of liver enzymes found on blood tests.
  • Unexplained yellowing of the skin (jaundice).
  • A liver abnormality found on ultrasound, CT scan or nuclear scan.
  • Unexplained enlargement of the liver.

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