A liver ultrasound is one of a few tests your doctor can order if they want to check your liver.

An ultrasound scan (also known as sonography) is a noninvasive procedure. It captures live images of your organs using high frequency sound waves.

A liver ultrasound is an essential tool that helps doctors see your liver and its blood vessels in real time. It’s a type of abdominal ultrasound.

If your doctor has ordered a liver ultrasound, it might mean they want to confirm or rule out a liver condition.

Keep reading to learn what conditions a liver ultrasound can detect, what to expect from the procedure, how accurate it is, how much you might need to pay for it, and other useful information.

Liver disease” is a general term that refers to a group of conditions affecting your liver. These conditions may have different causes, but all of them can damage your liver and affect your general health.

Some of the most common liver conditions are:

Doctors usually recommend liver ultrasounds for the following reasons:

  • if you show symptoms of liver disease, such as jaundice or pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen (where the liver is located)
  • if you have high liver enzymes on a blood test called the liver function test
  • as a screening tool for liver conditions

The purpose of a liver ultrasound is to visualize your liver and record its blood flow. This helps doctors confirm or rule out liver conditions.

Liver ultrasounds don’t usually require special preparation, but your doctor may ask you not to eat or drink anything several hours before the procedure.

A liver ultrasound typically takes no more than 15 minutes. During the scan, you’ll lie still on a scanning table. An ultrasound technician will place a scanner in different spots around the upper right segment of your abdomen. The resulting images will show up on a computer screen in real time.

After the ultrasound is done, a doctor will check the ultrasound images. They will look for the following signs of liver disease:

  • liver inflammation, a sign of hepatitis
  • a buildup of fat associated with fatty liver disease
  • masses or lesions, which can indicate liver cancer
  • liver stiffness, a sign of fibrosis or cirrhosis (the final stage of fibrosis)

A liver ultrasound is a very useful tool in identifying certain types of liver disease. It’s often the first test your doctor will order if they suspect a liver condition. It’s a quick, safe, painless, and relatively inexpensive test.

However, a liver ultrasound isn’t a definitive diagnostic tool. Your doctor will most likely order additional tests, like a liver biopsy, to further evaluate your liver health. In fact, according to older research, liver ultrasound has moderate diagnostic accuracy.

But newer research indicates liver ultrasound is able to accurately detect fatty liver disease.

On average, you can expect to pay between $100 and $1,000 out of pocket. The good news is that most insurance providers cover this procedure.

Liver ultrasound costs will vary based on:

  • where you live
  • whether you have medical insurance
  • the type of ultrasound

How do you diagnose fatty liver disease?

A doctor can diagnose fatty liver disease using a combination of the following tests:

  • liver ultrasound
  • CT or MRI scans of the abdomen
  • transient elastography (also known as FibroScan), which assesses liver stiffness
  • magnetic resonance elastography (MRE), which combines MRI with low frequency sound waves to create a visual map showing liver stiffness

Can you get an ultrasound for alcohol liver disease?

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is liver damage caused by chronic, heavy alcohol use. It causes liver inflammation and scarring. It eventually leads to cirrhosis.

Liver ultrasound is one of the tests used to diagnose ARLD. Other tests may include:

Is there an ultrasound for liver disease in dogs?

Similar to humans, abdominal ultrasounds are commonly used in dogs and cats when a vet suspects a liver condition.

Symptoms of liver disease in pets can be subtle but may include:

  • poor appetite
  • orange urine
  • jaundice
  • weight loss
  • excessive drinking or excessive urinating
  • light colored stool

Can abdominal ultrasound check for chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma surveillance?

Certain types of liver disease can increase your risk of developing liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Because of that, doctors recommend regular screening for HCC in people with the following liver conditions: cirrhosis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and hepatitis D. The 2018 American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) HCC guidelines recommend ultrasound screening for HCC every 6 months in most adults with cirrhosis.

A liver ultrasound is likely the first test your doctor will order if they suspect a liver condition. This procedure is quick, safe, painless, and relatively inexpensive. However, the definite diagnosis of your condition may require additional testing.