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Diagnosis of Cirrhosis
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests to confirm cirrhosis may include the following:
Blood tests—There is no specific blood test to diagnose cirrhosis. Blood tests can only detect signs of liver function problems, such as:
- Elevated liver enzymes aspartate aminotransaminase (AST), alanine aminotranferase (ALT), alkaline phosphatase, g-glutamyltransferase (GGT), which are indicators of liver damage
- Elevated bilirubin—elevated bilirubin in the blood causes jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
- Low serum albumin (a protein made by the liver)
- Blood clotting abnormalities
- Ammonia levels
Special tests are ordered to confirm various causative factors including tests for:
- Viral hepatitis B and C
- Autoimmune hepatitis with antinuclear antibodies or anti-smooth muscle antibody
- Hemochromatosis with transferrin saturation, iron-binding capacity, ferritin
- Wilson disease with serum copper and ceruloplasmin
- Alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency with serum alpha 1 antitrypsin plus genetic screening
- Primary biliary cirrhosis with antimitochondrial antibody
Imaging tests —These tests help your doctor visualize the liver in various ways to determine whether the size and shape are normal or if the liver shows any signs of cirrhosis. Some tests may use contrast material so the images will be easier to see. Imaging tests may include:
Laparoscopy —A tube with a tiny video camera mounted on it is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen. It relays pictures back to a computer screen. This also allows the doctor to see the liver and determine whether the size and shape appear normal.
Liver biopsy —This is the only definite way to diagnose cirrhosis. A needle is used to obtain a small sample of tissue from the liver. The tissue sample is then examined under a microscope to determine whether it shows scarring or other signs of disease.
Cirrhosis. American Liver Foundation website. Available at: http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/cirrhosis. Updated December 6, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2017.
Cirrhosis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/cirrhosis. Updated April 2014. Accessed March 28, 2017.
Cirrhosis of the liver. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114078/Cirrhosis-of-the-liver. Updated January 12, 2017. Accessed March 28, 2017.
Starr SP, Raines D. Cirrhosis: diagnosis, management, and prevention. Am Fam Physician. 2011;84(12):1353-1359.
- Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
- Review Date: 03/2017
- Update Date: 03/15/2015