What is the role of liver biopsy in the evaluation of acute liver failure (ALF)?

Updated: Jun 13, 2019
  • Author: Gagan K Sood, MD; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
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A percutaneous liver biopsy is contraindicated in the setting of coagulopathy. However, a transjugular biopsy is helpful for diagnosis if autoimmune hepatitis, metastatic liver disease, lymphoma, or herpes simplex hepatitis is suspected. Liver biopsy findings may be nonspecific, but in general, the findings depend on the underlying etiology of the acute liver failure.

Liver biopsy specimens in patients with idiosyncratic medication-induced hepatitis leading to fulminant hepatic failure generally shows panlobular necrosis. In patients with acetaminophen-induced fulminant hepatic failure, centrilobular necrosis is typical but panlobular injury may also be observed.

Viral hepatitis typically produces a panlobular injury and may be difficult to distinguish from medication-induced hepatitis. The presence of microvesicular steatosis suggests certain medications (eg, valproic acid, salicylates in Reye syndrome) as a cause for fulminant hepatic failure, but this finding is also observed in acute fatty liver of pregnancy.

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