Liver Scans: What to Expect
As part of your treatment plan, your liver doctor may schedule various liver scans. Once you are diagnosed with hep C, there may be many scans ordered. This can be overwhelming, especially if you have never had these scans before. Here is an overview of various types of liver scans:
Ultrasound is a very easy, non-invasive scan that allows the doctor ultra-sonic visuals of your liver. Typically, this procedure does not require any IV’s or solutions to drink beforehand, but it might require fasting. Usually, you will lay down on an exam table and a gel substance will be applied to your skin to allow the ultrasound equipment to run smoothly over your liver area. In my experience, the procedure normally takes about 15-30 minutes, depending on the images your doctor has ordered.
During a CAT scan (also known as a CT scan), you will be asked to lie down on a table that is just outside a ring-like sphere at your feet. You will be asked to put your hands above your head and the table will slowly move toward the ring-like machine. You will not feel anything during the scan, but You will hear the machine scanning and getting images of your liver. You will be asked to breathe in and hold, and then exhale and hold.
CAT scans can be done with and without contrast. If you need contrast, the procedure requires an IV so that the contrast solution can be released throughout your system. During a CAT scan with contrast, the technician should advise you when the contrast solution will be injected through the IV. Once it begins to enter your system, you will feel a warm sensation beginning in your head and slowly moving down through your body. It is normal. Once it reaches your mid-section, it will feel as though you have released urine, making you feel like you have wet yourself. AGAIN- totally normal. In my experience, this scan will take 30-45 minutes, maybe less, depending on the images taken. This scan is also used for muscle issues, blood clots, tumors, cysts, etc.
For this scan, you will be asked to remove all metal from your body. Once in the room, you will see a very large machine with a small cylindrical opening. During an MRI, you will be lying down on a table, and likely given a head set or earplugs. This machine gives a loud, thumping noise while running, but you won’t feel anything. Once in the chamber, it can become claustrophobic, as it is tight quarters. If you are claustrophobic, your doctor may be able to order something to help ease that anxiety. This procedure lasts about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the images needed.
If you have certain medical conditions, you may not be able to have an MRI (because of the strong magnetic field used). This will be determined prior to appointment. MRIs are also used for soft tissue problems, tumors, and when more detailed imaging needed. Like a CT scan, MRIs can be ordered with and without contrast. Sometimes, contrast is delivered via IV. Other times, it is delivered as a liquid you drink.
These are the basic scans that many liver patients have. If you are in cirrhosis, these scans will be performed more regularly, compared to a person in lower stages of the disease. In my experience, these scans are nothing to fear and do not causes pain or discomfort. It will be up to your doctor as to which scan is needed in your particular health case. For myself being stage 4 cirrhotic, I get all three on a regular basis.