Diagnosis

Finding the cause and extent of liver damage is important in guiding treatment.

Your doctor is likely to start with a health history and thorough physical examination. Your doctor may then recommend:

  • Blood tests. A group of blood tests called liver function tests can be used to diagnose liver disease. Other blood tests can be done to look for specific liver problems or genetic conditions.
  • Imaging tests. CT scan, MRI and ultrasound can show liver damage.
  • Tissue analysis. Removing a tissue sample (biopsy) from your liver may help diagnose liver disease. Liver biopsy is most often done using a long needle inserted through the skin to extract a tissue sample. It is then analyzed in a laboratory.

Treatment

Treatment for liver disease depends on your diagnosis. Some liver problems can be treated with lifestyle modifications, such as stopping alcohol use or losing weight, typically as part of a medical program that includes careful monitoring of liver function. Other liver problems may be treated with medications or may require surgery.

Treatment for liver disease that causes liver failure may ultimately require a liver transplant.

Treatment at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic researchers have invented a new, noninvasive way to detect hardening of the liver. Magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) combines MRI imaging with sound waves to create a visual map (elastogram) showing the stiffness of liver tissue. At Mayo Clinic, MRE may be done as part of a conventional MRI exam for liver disease.

Clinical trials

Explore Mayo Clinic studies testing new treatments, interventions and tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage this disease.

Alternative medicine

No alternative medicine therapies have been proved to treat liver disease. Some studies — notably of Chinese herbal medicine treatments for clearance of hepatitis B virus — have indicated benefits. But the quality of these research studies has been questioned.

On the other hand, some herbal supplements used as alternative medicine treatments can harm your liver. More than a thousand medications and herbal products have been associated with liver damage, including:

  • Jin bu huan
  • Ma-huang
  • Germander
  • Valerian
  • Mistletoe
  • Skullcap
  • Chaparral
  • Comfrey
  • Kava
  • Pennyroyal oil

To protect your liver, it's important to talk to your doctor about the potential risks before you take any complementary or alternative medicines.

Preparing for your appointment

You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the liver (hepatologist).

What you can do

  • Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions, such as not eating solid food on the day before your appointment.
  • Write down your symptoms, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason why you scheduled the appointment.
  • Make a list of all your medications, vitamins and supplements.
  • Write down your key medical information, including other conditions.
  • Write down key personal information, including any recent changes or stressors in your life.
  • Ask a relative or friend to accompany you, to help you remember what the doctor says.
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
  • What kinds of tests do I need? Do these tests require any special preparation?
  • Are my liver problems likely temporary or chronic?
  • What treatments are available?
  • Should I stop taking certain medications or supplements?
  • Should I avoid alcohol?
  • I have other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?

In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may make time to go over points you want to spend more time on. You may be asked:

  • When did you first begin experiencing symptoms, and how severe are they? Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve or worsen your symptoms?
  • Have you had a fever?
  • Have you ever had your skin or eyes turn yellow?
  • What medications and supplements do you take?
  • How many days of the week do you drink alcohol? Do you have any tattoos?
  • Does your job involve exposure to chemicals, blood or body fluids?
  • Have you ever had a blood transfusion?
  • Have you been told that you have had liver problems before?
  • Has anyone in your family ever been diagnosed with liver disease?

Liver disease care at Mayo Clinic

July 15, 2014
References
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  5. Woreta TA, et al. Evaluation of abnormal liver tests. Medical Clinics of North America. 2014;98:1.
  6. AskMayoExpert. What is magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) and what are the indications for an MRE examination? Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2013.
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