What’s in this article

  • What is a liver ultrasound?
  • When do you require a liver ultrasound?
  • What to expect from a liver ultrasound


What is a liver ultrasound?
A liver ultrasound is an ultrasound imaging of the abdomen to diagnose a suspected problem with the liver. An ultrasound uses sound waves to produce pictures of the organs inside the upper abdomen. By measuring the reflection of these waves, it is possible to establish how far away the organ is as well as the organ’s size, shape and consistency. By doing this it is possible to see any changes to what would be a normal organ.

A liver ultrasound is used to help diagnose pain, enlargement or distention and assess the kidneys, liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas and spleen. Changes in size and appearance are noted and any abnormal masses such as tumors. Results can be instant as the physician might be able to see any abnormalities, if not you can get the results from your doctor.  If your doctor is unsure they may suggest that you need further testing to determine the issue.


When do you require a liver ultrasound?
Your doctor will recommend a liver ultrasound when they think that you may be suffering from damage to the liver or some form of liver disease. This may be a result of blood test results or a physical exam. Your doctor may also suggest that you undergo an MRI scan, CT scan, liver biopsy or ultrasound elastography for a better diagnosis.


What to expect from a liver ultrasound
The liver plays a big role in digesting fats and because of this your doctor will recommend a low-fat diet for 24 hours before the ultrasound. An ultrasound is a non-invasive test and is painless and can therefore be performed on an outpatient basis. The technician can talk you through the procedure beforehand if you have any questions or concerns. A water-based gel is applied to your abdomen which may be slightly cold. The gel makes sure that there is a tight bond between the skin and the probe which ensures that the soundwaves transmit directly to the tissue. It is common for the technician to ask you to move into different positions to get the best reading. The whole ultrasound procedure usually takes 30 minutes to complete, however, it can take longer depending on the detail needed or the size of the organ.

There are no risks associated with having a liver ultrasound and the only limitations occur in overweight patients. The presence of more fat makes it harder to get a clear reading, this also applies to bowels that are filled with gas.


Find out more about the basics of liver health with Dr. Tarek Hassanein, M.D.




Mayo Clinic
Liver Directory
Centers for Disease Control