Diagnosing Liver Disease

Liver disease can often be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can be vague and easily confused with other health problems. In some cases, a person may have no symptoms at all but the liver may already have suffered significant damage.

If your doctor suspects that you may have liver disease, he or she will want to have a frank discussion regarding the possible risk factors to which you may have been exposed. These risk factors may include prescription or over-the-counter drug use, past blood transfusions, sexual activity, alcohol consumption, occupational exposure to blood products (i.e. through accidental needle sticks), exposure to toxic chemicals, family history of liver disease, travel to high risk areas or use or experimentation with injection drugs. 

Your doctor may look for signs of liver disease such as jaundice, a swollen abdomen or tenderness in the area of the liver. Blood tests may be used to determine if your liver is functioning properly and to help discover what may be affecting your liver. Blood tests can look for the presence of liver inflammation or screen for antibodies or virus particles that might indicate a specific form of liver disease. These tests are called liver tests

How to find a primary care physician (family doctor or GP)?
How can I get a referral to a liver specialist?

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Sometimes you may have to undergo a liver biopsy. A liver biopsy involves inserting a thin needle into your liver to remove a small piece of tissue which is then examined under a microscope.

In some cases, imaging tests may be used to detect specific forms of liver disease or to determine the extent of scarring of the liver. These tests include ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP).

How to find a primary care physician (family doctor or GP)

If you do not have a family physician, try going to a walk-in clinic to see if they are able to take you on as a patient. Walk-in clinics may be able to provide you with names of family physicians/GPs in the area whom they know are taking on new patients.

You can also talk to friends, family and neighbours in your community to see if they can recommend any doctors in the area so you can contact them to see if they are taking new patients. Ask your local pharmacist, optician, dentist, audiologist, sports therapist or trainer if they're aware of any family physicians planning to open a clinic or new practice in your area. They may also be able to direct you to an established physician who is taking on new patients.

Another source of information and guidance on finding a physician is your provincial medical association. In most provinces and territories, the Ministry of Health or a provincial College of Physicians and Surgeons offers an online directory of physicians, often sorted by location and specialty.

Click the here to find a directory in your area.

How can I get a referral to a liver specialist?

The Canadian Liver Foundation cannot make referrals to liver specialists. A referral to a liver specialist must be made by a primary care physician (family physician or GP) who has first done some preliminary tests to establish that you have a liver disease. Based on the test results, the family physician/GP can determine whether it is necessary to refer you to a specialist.

Depending on where you live and what medical resources are available in your area, the referral may be to an internal medicine specialist, a gastroenterologist, an infectious disease specialist, a liver specialist (hepatologist) or other physicians in the area who specialize in liver disease.

If you your require additional information please contact us at 1-800-563-5483 or by email clf@liver.ca