A liver biopsy is a procedure doctors use to diagnose and monitor liver diseases. The recovery process varies depending on the biopsy type. Some types of liver biopsy require only a local anesthetic, while others require a general anesthetic.

Doctors often advise people to avoid intense physical activity and heavy lifting for up to 1 week following a liver biopsy. After that, people can resume their usual activities. People may find liver biopsy recovery uncomfortable, but any pain should resolve quickly after the procedure.

This article looks at liver biopsy recovery and what to expect. It also covers potential complications and when to seek help.

A man in the back seat of a taxi on the way home from a liver biopsy.Share on Pinterest
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There are three types of liver biopsy:

  • Percutaneous liver biopsy: During this procedure, a doctor administers local anesthetic to reduce pain. They then insert a needle through the skin of the abdomen over the liver to take a sample of liver tissue. They may use an ultrasound or CT scan to find the best place to insert the needle.
  • Transjugular liver biopsy: Doctors also use a local anesthetic for this procedure. It involves inserting a thin, flexible tube into a vein in the neck. The doctor then threads a biopsy needle down the tube and into the liver to take a tissue sample.
  • Surgical liver biopsy: This type of biopsy requires general anesthetic, which makes a person unconscious. A surgeon will conduct the biopsy via open surgery or laparoscopic surgery. Open surgery involves making a large cut in the abdomen to access the liver. In contrast, laparoscopic surgery involves inserting special tools through small cuts in the abdomen to get the sample.

The total recovery time following a liver biopsy depends on the type of liver biopsy a person has, as well as their overall health.

Usually, people can resume typical activities after 1 week. Before this, it is important to avoid intense activity and heavy lifting.

Generally, a liver biopsy does not require an overnight stay in the hospital. However, if someone has a surgical liver biopsy with general anesthetic, they may need to stay in the hospital overnight to recover.

After the procedure, healthcare professionals check the person’s vital signs regularly for 2–4 hours. Usually, any complications from percutaneous liver biopsies are evident within the first hour after the procedure. Once the medical team confirms that the person has recovered sufficiently and it is safe for the person to go home, they may do so.

The individual may be groggy after the liver biopsy. Therefore, they may require a friend or family member to take them home.

People who have undergone a percutaneous liver biopsy may need to lie on their right side for a few hours following the procedure. This allows the weight of their body to press on the wound, which helps with wound clots and aids healing.

After a transjugular liver biopsy, a person does not need to maintain a specific recovery position. However, they may find it more comfortable to lie on their back or on the opposite side from where the doctor inserted the catheter.

People who have undergone open surgery may find it more comfortable to stay on their back.

A person’s medical team will give them advice on what to do during recovery. Here are some general guidelines:

Caring for the wound

A person must keep their wound dressing clean and dry. A doctor may recommend waiting a few days before bathing the area. After this time, a person may be able to remove the dressing and wash the area as usual.

If a person had a surgical biopsy, they might have stitches. They should keep the stitches clean and dry and watch for any signs of infection, such as pus, swelling, or pain.

A person should avoid contact sports and swimming until the wound heals.

Rest and movement

Doctors usually advise people to rest after a liver biopsy. An individual should avoid intense activity and heavy lifting for 1 week.

Diet

There is no specific diet to follow for liver biopsy recovery. However, an individual may feel nauseated after the procedure and may prefer bland foods that they can digest easily.

Drinking plenty of fluids after the procedure is essential to prevent dehydration and aid recovery.

Medications

A person’s doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications for them to take after the biopsy. Alternatively, the doctor may prescribe pain medications for short-term use.

Before a liver biopsy, a doctor may ask a person to stop taking medications that affect blood clotting or that could interact with an anesthetic. In this case, individuals should ask their doctor when they may start taking their regular medications again.

Liver biopsies are typically safe and straightforward procedures. The risk of serious complications is low, at around 1%. Only about 1 in 10,000 people who have a liver biopsy die for reasons directly related to the procedure.

The most common complication an individual may experience after a liver biopsy is pain. Individuals may experience this pain in their upper right abdomen or their right shoulder. Generally, the pain is not serious and resolves within a few hours.

Another potential complication is internal bleeding. This can cause severe pain, low blood pressure, and a rapid heartbeat. Bleeding happens in around 1 in 500 procedures. Severe bleeding occurs in 1 in 2,500–10,000 liver biopsies.

Other uncommon complications may occur following a liver biopsy, including:

  • infection, which could lead to sepsis
  • a collapsed lung
  • hemothorax, a buildup of blood in the space between the lungs and the chest wall
  • injury to other organs

If someone experiences any of the following after a liver biopsy, they should seek immediate medical attention:

  • bleeding at the biopsy site
  • swelling around the wound
  • pain in the abdomen, shoulder, or chest that lasts more than a few hours
  • pus
  • fever
  • dizziness, weakness, or fainting
  • nausea and vomiting
  • racing heart
  • shortness of breath
  • swelling or bloating in the abdomen
  • black or bloody stool

These symptoms may signal complications such as internal bleeding or an infection. People with internal bleeding need hospital treatment and blood transfusions. They may also need surgery or another procedure to stop the bleeding.

Liver biopsy recovery is typically straightforward. People can often go back to their usual activities after 1 week. Some may experience pain, but they can usually manage it with OTC pain medications.

Many people will be able to return home the same day they have a liver biopsy. However, if a person undergoes open surgery, they may need to stay in the hospital overnight.

If an individual experiences severe pain, low blood pressure, or symptoms of an infection after a liver biopsy, they should seek immediate medical attention.