Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

A physical exam to detect enlarged liver

Your doctor may determine your liver is enlarged by feeling your abdomen during a physical exam. The doctor can estimate the size of your liver by feeling how far it extends below your rib cage. Your doctor may also note the texture of your liver. Depending on the underlying cause, an enlarged liver may feel soft, firm or irregular. Sometimes lumps are present as well.

Additional procedures

Once your doctor determines that you have an enlarged liver, other tests and procedures may be recommended to learn the cause. They may include:

  • Blood tests. A blood sample is tested to determine liver enzyme levels. This can give clues about the health of your liver. Blood tests can also identify viruses that can cause enlarged liver, such as the hepatitis viruses.
  • Imaging tests. Imaging tests include computerized tomography (CT) scan, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • Magnetic resonance elastography uses sound waves to create a visual map (elastogram) of the stiffness of liver tissue. This new test is noninvasive and can be an alternative to a liver biopsy. Magnetic resonance elastography is currently offered at relatively few medical centers, but it's expected to be available at most major medical centers soon.
  • Removing a sample of liver tissue for testing (liver biopsy). Your doctor may recommend a biopsy to collect a sample of liver tissue for laboratory testing. A liver biopsy is often done using a long, thin needle that's inserted through your skin and into your liver. The needle draws out a core of tissue that is then sent to a laboratory for testing.
April 14, 2012