Liver Biopsy -Risks and Benefits

Even in the ‘old USA,’ there is a mortality risk from liver biopsy in the pediatric population.  A recent study from Los Angeles confirms this (JPGN 2013; 57: 644-48).

This retrospective review of all children (n=213 children & 328 biopsies) who underwent a percutaneous liver biopsy between 2008-2011 were examined.  These biopsies were completed by radiology with ultrasound or CT.  Gel foam was injected in cases of multiple biopsies.


  • 9 (4.2%) dropped hemoglobin > 2 /dL.
  • 7 (3.3%) needed a transfusion.
  • 1 (0.5%) died.  This was a 2.6 kg infant seen for transplant evaluation.
  • 63 (19%) had insufficient samples for definitive histologic evaluation.
  • In 81% of initial biopsies, “a definitive pathologic diagnosis was obtained.”
  • Biopsies for unexplained elevation of liver function tests were nondiagnostic in 34.9%.

The authors take: “our data demonstrate that percutaneous liver biopsy is generally safe; yet, finite risk remains, with bleeding-related complications occurring 5.2% of children.”

Bottomline: make sure you need the information from the liver biopsy enough to justify the risk, particularly in small children and in those at increased risk for bleeding.

Related blog post (with annotated references):

Liver biopsy risk in children | gutsandgrowth

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