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Liver Scans: What to Expect

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.

CAT scan

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.

My experience

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Susan Simon moderator
    4 months ago

    It is important to note that once cured cirrhotic patients (Stage 4) should have an ultrasound or MRI, as directed by your provider, even after cure. While the rate of liver cancer is reduced in cured patients, it is still a risk in cured cirrhotic patients. ~ Sue, Community Moderator

  • WilsonRx
    5 months ago

    I was lucky to get cured five years ago with a clinical trial of what is now Harvoni, now my Dr prescribes Ultrasounds with elastography every six months for HCC surveillance. However, the my last MRI was 3 years ago and they used magnevist which caused dry eye and severe tinnitus- the type of contrast is important with non-ionizing gadolinium. Do your research and ask for safer non-ionizing form of Gd – not the cheaper forms like magnevist.

  • Susan Simon moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi WilsonRx, thank you so much for the warning and th
    e suggestion. We appreciate that. Be well. ~ Sue, Community Moderator

  • Curt
    6 months ago

    Thanks Kimberly. During my treatment I had an ultrasound and a liver biopsy. No cancer was found but the extent of my liver damage was discovered. Since I am stage 3/4 I will have an ultrasound every six months to check for cancer. But I am so thankful to be cured after decades of infection and damage.

  • ksemons
    9 months ago

    I’m right there with you. Stage 4 cirrhosis. Done all the scans etc…. now my health insurance won’t pay for MRI’s. Only 2 twice a yr They pay for my ultrasound. They won’t approve a MRI unless I get sick. Same with the treatment I was on. My insurance wouldn’t pay for the medication (harvoni) until I ended up in the hospital sick. Really sick. My stay was 17 days. Never mind the ascites they drain from you and blood transfusions. I pray for good health and healthy living.

  • Lbalz
    10 months ago


  • katmakiah
    10 months ago

    please include Fibroscan in article

  • Lbalz
    10 months ago

    Agreed! I am going for one tomorrow in fact, my first. The Dr. said its less invasive then a biopsy. But more detailed then ultrasound.

  • Osheana7
    9 months ago

    I have never had any of those scans when I had Hep C, before being treated. The only thing they did was do a biopsy of which I was in so much pain! It’s like getting stabbed in the liver over and over again! That’s exactly what they did to me! I will NEVER consent to one of those again. Now knowing there are other ways of them checking my liver, I will insist on another options besides biopsy! I had the treatment to cure Hep C, and the after affects caused me to have some sort of skin ailment that doctors can’t figure out. The Hep C is gone, but now I am suffering everyday from this new developement. I wish I would have known all the details before I started my treatment.

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