When it comes to diagnosing and managing diseases of your internal organs, such as your liver, doctors use a variety of tests and imaging studies. The images that these tests create can provide clues about what’s going on inside your body.

Doctors often use an imaging test called a liver pathology ultrasound to help diagnose and manage chronic liver disease.

In this article, we will explore what happens during a liver pathology ultrasound and how doctors use the images and information it provides.

A liver pathology ultrasound is an ultrasound imaging scan that’s done in the area of the liver. Ultrasound scanning uses a handheld tool to send high frequency sound waves into your body.

These sound waves travel uniformly through your tissues until they hit something with a different tissue density, whether it’s harder or softer. This may be blood, a cyst, bone, or a neighboring organ.

When the sound waves bounce back, the ultrasound tool (called a transducer) translates the information into an image. Because ultrasound technology uses sound waves to create images, it does not pose the same risks as X-rays or CT scans that use ionizing radiation, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Radiologists are trained to interpret ultrasound images. They will typically examine your ultrasound images and relay their findings to your doctor. Changes to the expected size, shape, and structure of the liver could signal a concern or a need for further testing.

Ultrasounds are often used in the diagnoses and management of various chronic liver diseases.

Unexplained pain in the abdomen or an abdominal injury may prompt an order for a liver ultrasound. You may also have this test done to help diagnose or manage conditions like:

An ultrasound of the liver is an imaging test that can usually be done during your appointment with your doctor. If your doctor’s office has the necessary equipment and a technician who is trained to perform and interpret ultrasound images, it doesn’t take long to perform this procedure.

When you have an ultrasound of the liver done, you will be asked to lie down and expose an area of your abdomen. A technician will apply gel to the surface of your skin, and then move the ultrasound transducer across the surface of your skin surface to produce an image.

Ultrasounds are painless and the resulting images are immediately available for assessment and interpretation.

If your doctor is trained to interpret ultrasound results, you can have the results of your test immediately. In some cases, your results may be delayed if additional analysis by a radiologist or a measurement is required.

An ultrasound of the liver can be very accurate when it comes to diagnosing conditions that affect the size, shape, or structure of the liver.

Hepatomegaly, or an enlarged liver, is a condition that is recognized most easily by ultrasound. Liver conditions like abscesses and tumors are more difficult to diagnose with an ultrasound. These may be detected more accurately with a CT scan or an MRI scan.

Beyond ultrasound examinations, your healthcare professional may use other tests to check the structure and function of your liver.

Imaging tests like a CT scan or MRI scan are often used to evaluate the structure of the liver. Blood testing can be done to check how well your liver is working. This type of test may be referred to as a liver function test.

In some cases, a biopsy may be needed to make or confirm the diagnosis of a liver condition. A biopsy is a diagnostic procedure in which a medical professional removes a small sample of liver tissue for testing.

What are the downsides to having an ultrasound?

An ultrasound can provide quick, valuable information about the size and structure of your liver. It gives your doctor an instant image, but it’s not the highest quality.

A CT or MRI scan will produce a more detailed image, while blood testing can provide more information about your liver function.

What’s the best scan for detecting liver disorders — an MRI, CT, or ultrasound?

An MRI will produce the most detailed imaging of your liver, but it’s a costly test. A CT scan is less expensive, but it can expose you to small amounts of radiation.

An ultrasound doesn’t produce the most detailed image, but it is quick and usually inexpensive.

Your doctor will determine which test is ideal for your particular symptoms and condition. In many cases, an ultrasound is more than enough to answer the doctor’s questions and determine a treatment plan, if needed.

Do I need routine ultrasounds to monitor my chronic liver disease progression and treatment?

Your doctor will tell you if you need routine imaging to monitor a liver condition.

Routine imaging can be useful in monitoring the size and structure of your liver, and ultrasounds may be the best choice in terms of avoiding side effects like radiation and using contrast dye.

An ultrasound can give a doctor a quick view of your liver, but there are other tests that can offer more details and a clearer picture.

Ultrasounds may be the test of choice when it comes to routine imaging, though, since they can be done quickly and without side effects.

Talk with your doctor about what kinds of tests are best for your specific condition and treatment plan if you are living with chronic liver disease.