Learning you need a liver biopsy: staying strong

Approaches to stay in control before, during and after a biopsy. 

Categories: For Potential Participants, [Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH), Drug development, Elafibranor (GFT505), Liver disease, Obeticholic acid (OCH)]

Learning you need a liver biopsy: staying calm

When imaging and lab work are not enough to diagnose the specifics of suspected liver disease, a biopsy is recommended. This procedure removes a small sample (biopsy) of the liver for analysis to determine the type and/or stage of disease. The mere thought of having a needle placed in into the abdomen is frightening for some. Beyond concerns over pain and discomfort, there is the worry about what will be found.  It can all be overwhelming. But you can take steps to feel in control.

Do I really need a liver biopsy?

Chances are your doctor has become aware of a problem with your liver. Maybe something was seen on a scan and/or your blood work had some values out of range. Or there could be concern about fatty liver disease progressing based on how you have been feeling. With each of these situations, only studying actual tissue will reveal the nature of the problem. Without this, a doctor cannot make the best treatment plan possible. Liver biopsy has been the standard tool for diagnosing liver disease for many decades.

Setting yourself up for success

When scheduling the biopsy, there is an opportunity to exert a bit of control. First, choose a date and time that works well for your schedule taking into account traffic and parking. Have your calendar available to try and limit impact to personal, family or work commitments since you will want a bit of downtime afterwards. Think about who can come with you and drive you home afterwards. Prepare and have the foods that usually comfort you purchased ahead of time.

Will it hurt?

This is one of the most common questions about any medical procedure. Patients should expect some discomfort at the incision site. The physician performing the biopsy will “numb’ your skin surface to reduce the chances of pain. With proper post-procedure care, such as following instructions for recovery at home and using over the counter pain relief, any discomfort subsides for most in 1-2 days. Be sure to have planned for what to binge watch or read while taking it easy.

What comes next

It has been said that getting biopsy results is like a big reveal moment. It is nerve wracking waiting so be sure to set your expectations by confirming with the provider how long the results usually take and how the results will be communicated. If you don’t hear, who do you contact? If the follow-up visit is to happen over telemedicine, be sure to test the technology ahead of time.  Ask someone to sit with you or accompany you to take notes and make sure you get your questions answered (take some time to write them down).

For patients whose liver biopsy results confirm fatty liver disease, specifically NASH, a doctor may encourage at least consideration of clinical research opportunities. Today there are more than 150 studies evaluating novel ways to diagnose and treat NASH, from diagnostic blood tests to personalized medicine based on genetic information.

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