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Diagnosing Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

Making a primary biliary cirrhosis diagnosis requires a variety of tests. A liver enzyme test, an ultrasound, and a liver biopsy are a few of these tests that may be involved in diagnosing primary biliary cirrhosis. Before these tests are ordered, however, the healthcare provider will ask the patient a number of questions about his or her medical history -- such as his or her symptoms, current medications, and any overseas travel history -- and will perform a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms of cirrhosis.

How Is Primary Biliary Cirrhosis Diagnosed?

In order to make a primary biliary cirrhosis diagnosis, the doctor will begin by asking a number of questions about your medical history, including questions about:
 
  • Symptoms
  • Current medical conditions
  • Current medications
  • 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 primary biliary cirrhosis.
 

Tests Used to Diagnose Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

No single test can be used to diagnose primary biliary cirrhosis. Therefore, the doctor will use a variety of tests to look for primary biliary 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 primary biliary cirrhosis. Other tests may look at cholesterol levels, as well as how well the blood is clotting and how many platelets are in the blood (this is known as a complete blood count with platelets). Depending on the suspected cause, other blood tests may then be ordered.
 
Your doctor may also perform an ultrasound, which uses sound waves to create an image of the liver. This allows you doctor to see how the liver looks, how the blood is flowing, and whether there is an increased risk of certain complications.
 
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. He or she then checks the piece of liver for signs of primary biliary cirrhosis.
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