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Liver Ultrasound – the good and the bad

Knowledge Hub

4 mins readFact Checked
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Written By:

Atif Riaz

Medically Reviewed By:

Mr M. Usman

Liver Ultrasound 

Being the largest organ inside the body and with over 500 functions, the liver is susceptible to quite a number of conditions that might affect its functions and your overall health. If your doctor suspects you might have a bad liver, a liver ultrasound is one of the first tests they will ask for. It gives the doctor a general overview of your liver’s condition and highlights potential problems with the liver, which the doctor could then look into for a definitive diagnosis. 

What are the First Signs of a Bad Liver? 

Liver disease doesn’t always cause noticeable signs and symptoms. But if the symptoms of a bad liver occur, they may include the following; 

  • Abdominal pain and swelling 
  • Itchy skin 
  • Skin and eyes appear yellowish 
  • Dark urine colour 
  • Pale stool colour 
  • Swelling in the legs and ankles 
  • Chronic fatigue 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tendency to bruise easily 
  • Nausea or vomiting 

You should see a doctor for almost all bad liver symptoms, especially if the signs are persistent. You should also see a doctor if the abdominal pain is so severe that you can’t stay still. 

fatty liver disease affects the liver.
fatty liver disease affects the liver. illustration of a normal liver vs a fatty liver.

Benefits of Getting a Liver Ultrasound

A liver scan uses a trace amount of radioactive material called radionuclide to take pictures of your liver. The scan is painless and offers numerous benefits and insights into the state of your liver, including; 

  • Diagnostic tool – The results of your liver scan will be used by your doctor to make important decisions about your diagnosis and how to proceed. The scan can be used as part of the diagnostic procedures for liver cancer, cirrhosis and hepatitis. 
  • Monitoring – If you suffer from liver disease, a liver scan can be used to monitor the progression of the disease. The scan also helps monitor the progress and your liver’s response to treatment. 
  • Look for damage or abnormal growths – Liver scans are also used to check for any damage to the liver from an accident or consumption of substances like alcohol. The scan also makes tumours, abscesses or cysts of the liver visible. 

In many cases, additional tests are required if the scan returns images with suspicious growths or indicates your liver is unhealthy. 

The greatest benefit of liver scans is they have almost no significant risks. The scan is non-invasive, with no contraindications, meaning nearly anyone can have the scan, including pregnant patients. 

Why Might You Need a Liver Ultrasound?

People need a liver ultrasound mainly when the doctor asks for one. When you experience unexplained pain in the upper right side of the abdomen or you have had trauma in the abdominal area, the doctor might request a liver scan as part of the investigation into what could be the problem. 

The doctor can also request for the scan to diagnose conditions and growths such as: 

  • Tumor 
  • Cyst 
  • Organ enlargement 
  • Cirrhosis 
  • Hepatitis 
  • Hematoma 
  • Abscess 

A liver scan can also be a part of your routine health check, usually requested if the doctor is worried about your lifestyle and suspects liver damage. 

A liver scan is a good screening tool for various liver conditions and diseases. Doctors can also recommend a liver scan on a blood test if you have high liver enzymes. 

Doctors can also use the scan to look at the blood vessels that supply the liver and check that the blood flow is as it should be. 

What Diseases Can Be Detected by Ultrasound? 

The results of the liver scan can show indications of various conditions and diseases in the liver, such as; 

  • Fatty liver disease 
  • Cirrhosis 
  • Infection 
  • Cancer
  • Hepatitis 
  • Liver fibrosis 
  • Gallstones 
  • Blockages 
  • Cholestasis or cholangitis 
  • Hemagloma 

Doctors will need to use an additional range of diagnostic tools to definitively identify the indications on the scan. The processes may include a medical history, blood tests, physical exams or a biopsy to determine or confirm the condition behind the indications on the scan. 

What is the difference between a liver ultrasound and CT liver scan with Contrast?

Liver scans are non-invasive and are completed relatively quickly. If you are having a CT liver scan with contrast media, here is what you can expect:

  • The radiologist will inject a small amount of radioactive material called a tracer into your bloodstream using an IV tube. 
  • The tracer collects in your liver and spleen. 
  • A special gamma camera that pinpoints the location of the radioactive tracers. 
  • The gamma camera produces detailed, computerized 3-D images showing how your liver functions. Large amounts of the tracers show up as bright spots, whereas areas with low concentration appear as dark spots. 
  • From the scan, the radiologist will be able to tell if your liver has any tumours, haematomas, cysts and abscesses. The images can also show whether the liver is enlarged. 
abdominal gas cause of abdominal pain in females
fatty liver disease affects the liver. illustration of a normal liver vs a fatty liver.

Liver Ultrasound FAQs

Q: How much is a liver ultrasound in London?

We can do a liver scan as part of an upper abdominal scan that also looks at the gallbladder, kidneys, spleen and pancreas, costing about £160. But the scan can also be done by itself and doesn’t require a GP referral. You can contact our clinic to set up an appointment and enquire about the pricing of a liver ultrasound in London. 

Q: Why would a doctor order a liver ultrasound?

If you’ve been involved in an accident with trauma around the upper abdominal area, the doctor might request a liver scan to check on the condition of the liver and supply of blood to the organ. The doctor might also request the test if you present with discomfort and pain in the upper abdominal area and other symptoms like swelling on the lower limbs and jaundice, among other symptoms normally associated with liver disease. 

Q: How accurate are ultrasound diagnoses?

A liver ultrasound is very useful in identifying certain types of liver disease. It’s often the first test a healthcare provider will order if they suspect a liver condition. It’s effective, painless and relatively inexpensive. However, it is not a definitive diagnostic tool but serves as a great starting point for further investigation. 

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Fact Check Information

The Scan Clinic is committed to providing accurate and objective educational content about health and medical related topics. We know that there is a lot of misinformation out there, and we take our responsibility to be a trustworthy source of information seriously. Every article on our site is thoroughly fact-checked by our team of writers.

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