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Understanding the Liver Biopsy Procedure

Image of the internal organs including the lungs, liver, gallbladder, small intestine and large intestine

A liver biopsy is a special procedure that’s safe and quick. It can help your healthcare provider find out how healthy your liver is.

Who needs a liver biopsy?

A liver biopsy may be done if you have:

  • Symptoms of a liver problem. These include yellowing skin and eyes or dark urine (jaundice) from infection, scarring, or damage from medicines.

  • Abnormal liver imaging tests, blood tests, or liver enzymes

  • A chronic liver condition, such as hepatitis or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease 

  • An abnormal liver scan

What a liver biopsy can do

A liver biopsy helps your healthcare provider diagnose a liver problem, such as cirrhosis or a fatty liver. He or she looks at your liver cells under the microscope. It also helps the healthcare provider in finding the cause of your liver problem and how serious it is.

Images of liver with cirrhosis and fatty liver

Possible risks and complications

Risks and complications can include the following:

  • Infection

  • Internal bleeding from the liver

  • Bile leakage

  • Rectal bleeding

  • Pain

  • Damage to organs near the liver. These include the lungs, gallbladder, kidneys, or intestines.

  • Need for a second liver biopsy if not enough liver tissue was taken the first time

Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Lehrer, Jenifer, MD
Last Review Date: 7/1/2016
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