(MINOT, ND) – A new scanning device at Trinity Health is making it easier to check for liver disease.
Installed on the fourth floor of Health Center ñ Medical Arts is a FibroScan® unit, a compact scanning system that gauges liver health using a method similar to the familiar ultrasound tests that obstetricians use to monitor pregnancy.
Infectious disease specialist Casmiar Nwaigwe, MD, says FibroScan® is a non-invasive, painless alternative to liver biopsy for diagnosing and monitoring most liver diseases. He hopes the simplicity of the test will make it more agreeable to patients.
‘Previously we’ve had to send people to the hospital for a needle biopsy, which is a much more invasive and painful procedure. Patients run the risk of bleeding and other complications. FibroScan® is an entirely non-invasive, painless procedure, and much less costly,’ he said.
Originally used in studies of patients with hepatitis C, FibroScan® has quickly become the go-to test for the majority of liver conditions, including fatty liver disease, hepatitis C and B, alcohol related liver disease, and liver disorders related to certain medications. (Liver biopsy remains the gold standard for diagnosing liver cancer.)
In addition to being patient friendly, FibroScan® is touted for its accuracy. Instead of sampling a small piece of liver as is the case with needle biopsy, FibroScan® examines a larger area of tissue. ‘It takes multiple measurements of the liver and averages them out so there’s less chance of a sampling error,’ Dr. Nwaigwe noted.
To perform a FibroScan®, providers apply a water-based gel to a patient’s right upper abdomen and conduct the test using a specially designed probe. The probe works by sending a low-frequency wave into the liver, which patients feel as a slight vibration on the skin. The device determines the stiffness or rigidity of liver tissue by measuring how long it takes the vibration to travel through the organ. Vibrations travel through diseased livers faster than through healthy livers. The procedure usually takes less than 15 minutes to complete.
Dr. Nwaigwe sees the liver scans as being very useful when it comes to evaluating liver health, diagnosing diseases, and determining appropriate treatments. ‘FibroScan® tests can be repeated regularly without any health risks so we’ll be able to monitor patients throughout the treatment process to see how the disease and treatment are progressing,’ he said. ‘Hopefully we’ll be able to diagnose conditions sooner because now there is a quick and easy way to get an accurate assessment.’
According to the American Liver Foundation, liver diseases are on the rise due to increasing numbers of people diagnosed with viral hepatitis including hepatitis C, alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, liver cancer, and other disorders. It’s estimated that at least 30 million people – or one in 10 Americans – has some form of liver disease.
Your physician can order a FibroScan® test by calling the Infectious Disease Department at Health Center ñ Medical Arts at (701) 857-7930. We encourage follow-up with your insurance to check and see if the scan is a covered service under your plan.