Liver biopsy (percutaneous)

Andrew Murphy and Dr Bruno Di Muzio et al.

Percutaneous liver biopsy, utilizing either ultrasound or CT guidance, allows for an accurate and reliable method of acquiring hepatic tissue for histopathological assessment. It is divided into two types:

  • non-focal or non-targeted liver biopsy (used in the assessment and staging of the parenchymal liver disease, e.g. NASH)
  • focal or targeted liver biopsy (i.e. directed to a focal parenchymal lesion)

Ultrasound is the modality of choice for imaging guidance in the vast majority of cases, with CT nowadays mostly reserved for a cojoined assessment together with the US in focal/targeted biopsies of lesions not sonographically demonstrated. 

An alternative option for percutaneous CT/US guidance, particularly used in patients with coagulopathy and ascites, is the transjugular liver biopsy

The contraindications must be considered individually in each case. Overall, the most important contraindications are:

  • uncooperative patient
  • uncorrectable bleeding diathesis (abnormal coagulation indices)
  • ascites
    • relative contraindication that can be usually tapped before the biopsy
  • extrahepatic biliary obstruction 1

Interventional procedures like renal biopsy require special attention to coagulation indices. There are widely divergent opinions about the safe values of these indices for percutaneous biopsies. The values suggested below were considered based on literature review, whose references are cited below:

  • complete (full) blood count:
    • platelet > 50000/mm3  (some institutions determine other values between 50000-100000/mm32
  • coagulation profile:
    • some studies showed that having a normal INR or prothrombin time is no reassurance that the patient will not bleed after the procedure:
      • international normalized ratio (INR) ≤ 1.5 2
      • normal prothrombin time (PT)/partial thromboplastin time (PTT)
  • written informed consent
  • assessment of patient's cooperation for the procedure
  • single or co-axial needle set
    • calibers vary among institutional protocols and purpose of the biopsy, with commonly used calibers being 14G, 16G, and 18G 
  • 1% lidocaine/lignocaine
  • midazolam (for sedation): its use varies according to different institutional guidelines, and should always be considered case-by-case 
  • histopathology department pot 

As ultrasound is the most common imaging modality used to guide liver biopsy, that will be the technique approached in this article.  

  • pre-procedure assessment of the liver with ultrasound should be performed for planning positioning and needle entrance point
    • supine, oblique, or total left lateral decubitus are the possible positioning of the patient - it is important to make sure that the patient is comfortable and can remain still in that position
      • wedge behind the patient's back helps for oblique positioning
    • assess if the procedure will be performed under breath held and practice this with the patient 
    • marking of the entrance point on the skin is advised to aid the skin cleaning and dressing 
  • hemodynamic monitoring in place is recommended
  • a time-out should be performed by this stage 
  • skin site is prepped and draped to ensure asepsis
  • local anesthesia is infiltrated under the skin abdominal wall/intercostal space until the liver capsule  
  • entrance point is created with a scalpel (usually number 11 blade)
  • using the freehand technique the needle is advanced under ultrasound guidance during the entire course of the biopsy
    • the needle tip must always cross the capsule prior to deploying the cutting device 1
    • documentation of the needle positioning after firing is advised
  • after the procedure, a brief assessment for perihepatic or intraparenchymal hemorrhage is usually performed 
Post-procedure care

Bed-rest is advised as well as regular observations for 4 hours (pulse, blood pressure, and SpO2 in those receiving sedation) and active questioning of the patient of any pain.

The observation period should allow an ample opportunity to identify and treat a potential complication in a timely manner to prevent a serious or catastrophic outcome, this varies with each institution's protocol. 

Percutaneous liver biopsy remains a safe procedure.

Complications include:

  • postprocedure pain
    • pain radiated to the right shoulder 3
  • severe hemorrhage
    • ranging from 0.35 to 1.7% 1
Interventional procedures
Imaging in practice
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Article information

rID: 63114
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • CT-guided percutaneous liver biopsy
  • US-guided percutaneous liver biopsy
  • CT-guided liver biopsy
  • US-guided liver biopsy

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1: ultrasound guided liver biopsy
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  • Case 2: post liver biopsy hemorrhage
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