The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests to confirm the diagnosis may include the following:
Blood tests—There is no specific blood test to diagnose cirrhosis. Blood tests can only detect signs of liver function problems, such as:
Elevated liver enzymes aspartate aminotransaminase (AST), alanine aminotranferase (ALT), alkaline phosphatase, g-glutamyltransferase (GGT) (an indicator of liver damage)Elevated bilirubin (the pigment that produces jaundice and is usually cleared from the body by the liver)Low serum albumin (a protein made by the liver)Blood clotting abnormalitiesAnemiaAmmonia levels
Special tests are ordered to confirm various causative factors including tests for: Viral hepatitis B and C serologiesAutoimmune hepatitis with antinuclear antibodies or anti-smooth muscle antibodyHemochromatosis with transferrin saturation, iron-binding capacity, ferritinWilson disease with serum copper and ceruloplasminAlpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency with serum alpha 1 antitrypsin plus genetic screeningPrimary biliary cirrhosis with antimitochondrial antibody
—These tests help your doctor visualize the liver in various ways to determine whether the size and shape are normal or if the liver shows any signs of cirrhosis. Some tests may use contrast material so the images will be easier to see. Imaging tests may include:
CT scanUltrasoundLiver scanAbdominal x-rayMRI scan
Laparoscopy—A tube with a tiny video camera mounted on it is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen. It relays pictures back to a computer screen. This also allows the doctor to see the liver and determine whether the size and shape appear normal.
—This is the only definite way to diagnose cirrhosis. A needle is used to obtain a small sample of tissue from the liver. The tissue sample is then examined under a microscope to determine whether it shows scarring or other signs of disease.
American Liver Foundation
website. Available at:
http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/cirrhosis. Updated December 3, 2012. Accessed April 24, 2013.
Cirrhosis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
website. Available at:
http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/liver-disease/cirrhosis/Pages/facts.aspx. Updated February 21, 2012. Accessed April 24, 2013.
Starr SP, Raines D. Cirrhosis: diagnosis, management, and prevention. Am Fam Physician. 2011;84(12):1353-1359.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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