Diagnosing Liver Disease

Liver disease can often be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can be vague and easily confused with other health problems. In some cases, a person may have no symptoms at all but the liver may already have suffered significant damage.

If your doctor suspects that you may have liver disease, he or she will want to have a frank discussion regarding the possible risk factors to which you may have been exposed. These risk factors may include prescription or over-the-counter drug use, past blood transfusions, sexual activity, alcohol consumption, occupational exposure to blood products (i.e. through accidental needle sticks), exposure to toxic chemicals, family history of liver disease, travel to high risk areas or use or experimentation with injection drugs. 

Your doctor may look for signs of liver disease such as jaundice, a swollen abdomen or tenderness in the area of the liver. Blood tests may be used to determine if your liver is functioning properly and to help discover what may be affecting your liver. Blood tests can look for the presence of liver inflammation or screen for antibodies or virus particles that might indicate a specific form of liver disease. These tests are called liver tests.

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Sometimes you may have to undergo a liver biopsy. A liver biopsy involves inserting a thin needle into your liver to remove a small piece of tissue which is then examined under a microscope.

In some cases, imaging tests may be used to detect specific forms of liver disease or to determine the extent of scarring of the liver. These tests include ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP).