Making a cirrhosis diagnosis begins with taking the patient's medical history. The healthcare provider will ask the patient about his or her symptoms, family history of medical conditions, and alcohol and/or drug use, among other things -- and will then perform a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms of cirrhosis. The healthcare provider may also use a variety of tests to diagnose cirrhosis. These tests may include blood tests, ultrasounds, and computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans.
In order to make a cirrhosis diagnosis, the doctor will begin by asking a number of questions about your medical history, including questions about:
- Current medical conditions
- Current medications
- A family history of medical conditions
- Any overseas travel history
- Alcohol and/or drug use
- Sexual history.
The doctor will also perform a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms of cirrhosis.
No single test can be used to diagnosis cirrhosis of the liver. Therefore, the doctor will use a variety of tests to look not only for cirrhosis but also its possible cause (see Causes of Cirrhosis).
He or she may begin by recommending certain blood tests. One test may be a liver enzyme test, which looks at certain levels of liver enzymes in the blood. Liver enzymes can be high in people with cirrhosis. Other tests may look at how well the blood is clotting and how many platelets are in the blood (known as a complete blood count with platelets). Depending on the suspected cause, other blood tests may then be ordered.
You doctor may also perform an ultrasound, which uses sound waves to create an image of the liver. This allows your doctor to see how the liver looks, how the blood is flowing, and whether there is an increased risk of certain complications. Other tests may include:
- Computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- A scan of the liver using a radioisotope (a harmless radioactive substance that highlights the liver)
- Laparoscope, an instrument that is inserted through the abdomen and relays pictures back to a computer screen.
The doctor may also recommend a liver biopsy. A liver biopsy is a simple test during which the doctor removes a tiny piece of your liver through a needle. The doctor then checks the piece of liver for signs of cirrhosis.