Understanding Liver Biopsy: Entire Lesson - Viral Hepatitis and Liver Disease
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Viral Hepatitis and Liver Disease

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Understanding Liver Biopsy: Entire Lesson

for Veterans and the Public

Understanding Liver Biopsy: Entire Lesson - Hepatitis C for Patients

Just Diagnosed: Resources

General hepatitis resources

  • Glossary
    Definitions of terms commonly used with viral hepatitis and related conditions.
  • American Liver FoundationLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    A national nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and cure of hepatitis and other liver diseases through research, education, and advocacy. Web site features a database directory of hepatitis clinical trials, lay-oriented facts sheets, and links to additional resources.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Viral HepatitisLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    Information on all types of viral hepatitis from the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases. Site features related CDC guidelines and recommendations as well as training materials, slide sets, fact sheets, and key CDC hepatitis documents.
  • HCV AdvocateLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    Web site of the Hepatitis Support Project, whose goal is to offer support to those who are affected by hepatitis C and related coinfections. Information and education is provided, as well as access to support groups.
  • Hepatitis B FoundationLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    A nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure and improving the quality of life of those affected by hepatitis B worldwide through research, education, and patient advocacy. Features information in English, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese.

HIV/Hepatitis C coinfection resources

  • VA National HIV WebsiteLink will take you to our HIV/AIDS internet site
    Information on HIV for health care providers and patients from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • HIV/AIDS/Hepatitis C Nightline:
    Hotline providing support for people with HIV or hepatitis C and their caregivers during the evening and nightime hours. 1-800-273-AIDS or 415-434-AIDS; 5 pm - 5 am Pacific time. Also offers Spanish-language hotline at: 1-800-303-SIDA or 415-989-5212.
  • NATAP: HepatitisLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    Recognizing that coinfection with viral hepatitis among people with HIV is a growing problem, the National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Project (NATAP) has developed an extensive amount of information on hepatitis, both in the context of HIV coinfection and as a separate illness. NATAP provides coverage of key conferences, maintains a selection of hepatitis articles, and features an ask-the-expert forum on hepatitis C.

Understanding liver biopsy

Liver biopsy is a medical procedure in which a doctor uses a special needle to remove a small piece of tissue from your liver to check for signs of damage. A liver biopsy will help you and your doctor find out more about the health of your liver.

This is important if you have hepatitis C or another liver disease and you are trying to decide about treatment. A liver biopsy also can be helpful if your doctor is not sure what is causing your liver problem. Not everyone, however, will need a liver biopsy.

Liver biopsy--the procedure

A liver biopsy is a medical procedure done in a hospital. You will need to lie flat on your back during the procedure. First, the doctor will find the space between your ribs on your right side where a liver biopsy can be performed most safely.

Then, the doctor will clean the skin above this location and give you an injection (or shot) of local anesthetic to numb the area. After the area is numb, the doctor will insert a biopsy needle to take out a small piece of liver. This part of the procedure is done quickly.

Most people who have a liver biopsy say that it only hurts a little. One generally feels a sting when the doctor administers the shot of anesthetic. Many people also have a feeling of pressure when the doctor inserts the biopsy needle. Some people say that they feel this pressure in their right shoulder, as well.

Liver biopsy--after the procedure

After the biopsy is done, your doctor will ask you to roll onto your side and lie still for 1 or 2 hours. This is to put pressure on the area where the biopsy was performed, so that you do not have bleeding or other problems caused by getting up too soon. After a while, your doctor may order blood tests to make sure that you are not bleeding. Before long, you will be told that you can go home. Follow your doctor's advice not to lift heavy weights or exercise too hard for about 2 weeks, so that your body has enough time to heal.

Liver biopsy risks

A liver biopsy generally is very safe. But, as is true for any medical procedure, there are some risks. These risks include:

  • pain at the site of the biopsy
  • bleeding from the liver
  • puncturing of other organs, if something goes wrong when the needle is inserted
  • very rarely, death (1 in 10,000 cases)

You should not have a liver biopsy if you have used aspirin or another blood-thinning medicine the week before your procedure. You should not take these medicines in the week after your biopsy either. Make sure that you tell your doctor about all the medicines you have been taking or that you plan to take. You also should not have a liver biopsy if your doctor thinks that your liver disease has progressed to the point that your blood does not clot normally.

Just Diagnosed: Resources

General hepatitis resources

  • Glossary
    Definitions of terms commonly used with viral hepatitis and related conditions.
  • American Liver FoundationLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    A national nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and cure of hepatitis and other liver diseases through research, education, and advocacy. Web site features a database directory of hepatitis clinical trials, lay-oriented facts sheets, and links to additional resources.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Viral HepatitisLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    Information on all types of viral hepatitis from the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases. Site features related CDC guidelines and recommendations as well as training materials, slide sets, fact sheets, and key CDC hepatitis documents.
  • HCV AdvocateLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    Web site of the Hepatitis Support Project, whose goal is to offer support to those who are affected by hepatitis C and related coinfections. Information and education is provided, as well as access to support groups.
  • Hepatitis B FoundationLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    A nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure and improving the quality of life of those affected by hepatitis B worldwide through research, education, and patient advocacy. Features information in English, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese.

HIV/Hepatitis C coinfection resources

  • VA National HIV WebsiteLink will take you to our HIV/AIDS internet site
    Information on HIV for health care providers and patients from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • HIV/AIDS/Hepatitis C Nightline:
    Hotline providing support for people with HIV or hepatitis C and their caregivers during the evening and nightime hours. 1-800-273-AIDS or 415-434-AIDS; 5 pm - 5 am Pacific time. Also offers Spanish-language hotline at: 1-800-303-SIDA or 415-989-5212.
  • NATAP: HepatitisLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
    Recognizing that coinfection with viral hepatitis among people with HIV is a growing problem, the National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Project (NATAP) has developed an extensive amount of information on hepatitis, both in the context of HIV coinfection and as a separate illness. NATAP provides coverage of key conferences, maintains a selection of hepatitis articles, and features an ask-the-expert forum on hepatitis C.