A liver ultrasound is a noninvasive test that allows a sonographer to see a person’s liver and its blood vessels. An ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images that help doctors diagnose a range of liver conditions, including fatty liver and liver cancer, as well as issues such as gallstones.
A liver ultrasound is a type of transabdominal ultrasound. This means a technician scans the abdomen using a device that resembles a microphone. The process uses sound waves to create digital images.
Liver ultrasounds are safe and usually do not take long. However, some people may feel anxious about having a liver ultrasound because of concerns about what the test might reveal.
Read on to learn more about liver ultrasound, including what people can expect to happen before and after the scan, and what the results can indicate.
It is a good screening tool for various liver conditions, such as hepatitis, cancer, and cirrhosis. A doctor
Doctors can use them to look at blood vessels that supply the liver and check the blood flow is as it should be.
There are almost no
This test is noninvasive and there are no absolute contraindications to it, meaning nearly anyone can have one. However, doctors generally recommend avoiding the use of pulsed Doppler techniques directly over the fetus if a person is pregnant.
People who have other tests along with ultrasound may have side effects. For example, injecting contrast dye may be painful, and in very rare cases a person might have an allergic reaction to the dye.
Liver ultrasounds do not always require preparation. Because they are low risk and noninvasive, a person does not need pain relief medication, clearance from a doctor, or anesthesia.
However, a doctor
Doctors may combine a liver ultrasound with other techniques to get a more accurate image and diagnose potential issues. Some common types of liver ultrasound scans include:
- Contrast imaging: This involves injecting dye into the blood vessels to make it easier to see the liver and its vessels. It can be especially helpful for diagnosing growths and lesions on the liver and detecting liver cancer.
- Elastography: This is a technique to see how stiff the liver tissue is, which could signal cirrhosis or another problem. It involves delivering a series of pulses to the liver to see the liver tissue. A doctor may compare elastography scores over time to detect changes in liver health.
- Combined techniques: A doctor may combine techniques, such as by doing an ultrasound and an MRI scan.
A liver ultrasound requires a person’s abdomen to be accessible. They may wear a hospital gown or lift up their shirt. People who do not want to expose the lower half of their body can consider wearing separates rather than a dress, or wearing shorts under a hospital gown. Alternatively, they may ask for a sheet to cover the lower half of the body.
A sonographer may also check the gallbladder during the scan. Both organs are in the upper right portion of the stomach, near the ribs.
Some people may feel pressure during the test or feel anxious about the results. However, a liver ultrasound should not hurt. The ultrasonographer may use a cold gel but will typically try to warm it up for the person’s comfort.
The scan usually takes only a few minutes.
A liver ultrasound requires no recovery time. A person can eat, drink, drive, and return to work or school after the ultrasound.
Getting the results
A sonographer usually performs the ultrasound. While the images will be available immediately, sonographers cannot usually interpret them or give a person the results. Instead, a person will need to talk with their doctor.
In some cases a doctor might give a person their results right away, or this may take a few days.
Based on the results, a doctor may recommend additional tests or work with the person to develop a treatment plan.
A healthy liver does not show significant fat deposits, scarring, or lesions. A doctor may also check for blockages in various ducts and examine the gallbladder for signs of inflammation or gallstones.
Some atypical findings include:
- fatty deposits in the liver, which may suggest fatty liver disease
- scarring or hardening of the liver, which may suggest cirrhosis
- masses or lesions, which may indicate an infection or cancer
- signs of hepatitis, such as liver inflammation
Doctors may look at the texture of the liver and look for areas that appear brighter on the scan.
The diagnosis a person with atypical findings on a liver ultrasound may receive will depend on the findings. In some cases, a person might need additional tests. For example, doctors can use a liver biopsy to test whether a growth or lesion on the liver is cancer.
In other cases, an ultrasound alone may diagnose the problem. For instance, if a person has gallbladder pain and a sonographer sees gallstones or a blockage, this
A liver ultrasound may indicate structural changes consistent with the presence of certain conditions, including:
- different types of hepatitis, such as viral hepatitis
- liver fibrosis or cirrhosis
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- alcohol-related liver injuries
- pregnancy-related liver injuries, such as cholestasis or cholangitis
- liver cancer
- hemangioma, or lumping of blood vessels
Often, doctors will need to use a range of diagnostic tools to definitively identify the reason for these changes. This process may include a medical history, physical exam, blood tests, and potentially a biopsy.
Having a liver ultrasound may cause a person anxiety if they feel worried about the health of their liver. However, the ultrasound itself is neither dangerous nor painful.
Doctors can advise people whether they need to do anything to prepare for the test and what they should expect after the ultrasound. It may also be helpful to know whether the ultrasound alone can diagnose a person’s liver issue or if they will require additional tests.