What is the diagnosis of Primary Biliary Cirrhosis?

By  ,  National Institute of Health
Jan 13, 2013

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The first indication of primary biliary cirrhosis may occur when results of routine blood tests to check liver function are abnormal. The doctor will then order one or more tests to confirm the disease:

  • Anti-mitochondrial antibody (AMA) blood test. The presence of AMA is detected in 90 percent of people with primary biliary cirrhosis.
  • Alkaline phosphatase blood test. Primary biliary cirrhosis is likely if two blood tests performed at least 6 months apart reveal alkaline phosphatase—a liver enzyme—to be abnormally high.
  • Liver biopsy. A liver biopsy can confirm the diagnosis but is not always necessary. A biopsy may help determine the extent of liver damage. The biopsy is performed with a needle inserted between the ribs or into a vein in the neck. Precautions are taken to minimize discomfort. A tiny sample of liver tissue is examined with a microscope for scarring or other signs of cirrhosis. Sometimes a cause of liver damage other than cirrhosis is found during biopsy.


The doctor may also order the following tests:

  • Cholesterol blood test. People with primary biliary cirrhosis may have abnormally high levels of cholesterol in the blood. However, these high cholesterol levels are usually less harmful to people with primary biliary cirrhosis than to those without the disease.
  • Abdominal ultrasound. An ultrasound shows whether the liver and bile ducts are inflamed. A handheld device, which a technician glides over the abdomen, sends sound waves toward the abdomen. The sound waves bounce off the liver and other organs, and their echoes create a picture of the liver and biliary system on a video monitor.
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