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Diagnostic Testing for Liver Disease

A healthy liver removes toxins from your body, digests your food, and absorbs nutrients. That's why early diagnosis and treatment for liver disease is vital.

At the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases, our physicians are experts in treating and diagnosing liver diseases.

Types of Tests to Diagnose Liver Disease

We offer a range of diagnostic tests to help your care team decide the best treatment for your liver disease.

Blood and tissue tests

One way that our doctors learn about your liver is by testing your blood and by taking a tissue sample from your liver.

These tests include:

  • Liver function blood tests: Doctors look at the levels of certain proteins and enzymes in the blood. These levels provide important clues about inflammation, liver damage, and how your liver functions.
  • Liver biopsy: Doctors take a small sample of your liver's tissue. They study this tissue to look for signs of liver disease and to make decisions about the most appropriate treatment. In most cases, you will only undergo a biopsy if blood tests and imaging tests have revealed irregularities in your liver.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests help our physicians to see inside your body to learn more about the health of your liver.

These tests include:

  • Non-invasive liver scan (FibroScan®): This uses shear waves to gather data about your liver. It can tell doctors how fatty or stiff the liver is.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): Doctors insert a narrow, flexible tube into your throat to your stomach and part of the small intestine. Using a small camera on the tube, they look at the bile ducts for damage or blockage.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound: Doctors insert a thin tube called an endoscope into the digestive tract and take pictures of the liver using sound waves. This test shows the condition of your liver and helps assess its blood flow and blood pressure.

Procedures to Diagnose and Treat Liver Diseases

Some techniques allow doctors to make a liver disease diagnosis and treat it at the same time.

These include:

  • Esophageal variceal banding or ligation: Doctors use a thin tube to place small rubber bands around enlarged veins (varices) in the esophagus. Veins may bleed when blood pressure in the liver is too high. Banding stops the bleeding.
  • Paracentesis: Doctors use a needle or tube to drain fluid from the peritoneal cavity, the part of the stomach holding your liver. Doctors test the fluid that builds in the cavity — known as ascites — a complication of liver cirrhosis.
  • Thoracentesis: Using a needle, doctors draw fluid from the pleural cavity, the space between tissue lining the chest wall and lungs. A cirrhosis complication called hepatic hydrothorax causes this fluid to build up.
  • Transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS): A doctor uses imaging to place a metal tube (stent) to join veins in the liver. Your doctor might use TIPS if you have high blood pressure in your liver or bleeding from veins.

Why Choose UPMC for Liver Care?

At UPMC, our liver specialists, are:

  • Experts in liver disease testing, diagnosis, and treatment.
  • National leaders in liver disease research.
  • Your partners in helping you manage your liver disease and live your healthiest life.

Contact the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases

To learn more about liver disease diagnostic testing or make an appointment: