Understanding Tests for Hepatitis C
Understanding tests for hepatitis C equips you to be proactive.
"Will I automatically be tested for hep C?"
First, it’s important to know hepatitis C tests are not included with standard wellness blood tests done by your primary care physician. Don’t assume hepatitis C tests are run. Unless you ask to be tested for hepatitis C, or if your physician suspects you possibly could have something wrong with your liver, hepatitis C tests are not usually done.
Many insurance companies do run hepatitis C antibody tests as a part of their routine tests for life insurance, but again, never assume they have been.
Common tests for hepatitis C
The best proactive step you can take against hepatitis C is to ask to be tested. There are a variety of tests done for hepatitis C.
The first blood test looks for antibodies for the hepatitis C virus. When a person is exposed to or infected with hepatitis C, the virus antibodies are detected in the blood, showing your body is trying to fight the hepatitis C virus. It sometimes takes 6 to 8 weeks for antibodies to be detected in the blood.
HCV RNA PCR
If hepatitis C antibodies are detected, an HCV RNA PCR test will be ordered to confirm the presence of the virus and measure the amount of virus in the blood. Follow-up tests are normally done, as false positive results can occur.
The HCV RNA PCR blood test can be done two ways, either qualitative, which detects if the virus is present, or quantitative, which measures the amount of hepatitis C virus in the blood.
The HCV RNA PCR blood test looks for the genetic makeup of the hepatitis C virus. It is commonly referred to as RNA and uses a process called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This test is performed throughout treatment for hepatitis C to determine how effective treatment is with measuring the amount of virus shown in the bloodstream.
Also referred to as liver function test, a liver panel is a specific blood test to show blood levels of protein, albumin, bilirubin, and liver enzymes. Liver enzymes include ALT (alanine transaminase), AST (aspartate transaminase), ALP (alkaline phosphatase), and GGT (gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase).
The liver panel can show if levels are elevated. However, the liver panel does not necessarily indicate if a condition is chronic.
A genotype test shows the type of hepatitis C virus strain. There are 6 different genotypes for hepatitis C with several subtypes. Genotype testing is important to help determine which treatment is best suited to work on certain virus strains.
An ultrasound of the liver helps show the visual image of your liver detecting any cysts, tumors, or abnormalities.
Liver biopsy (fibroscan)
A standard liver biopsy is where a tiny bit of your liver is removed by a needle to determine if there is any structural damage.
A Fibroscan is transient elastongraphy test is a non-invasive procedure, very similar to an ultrasound. With a Fibroscan, no needles or IV’s are used. With a Fibroscan, the entire liver structure can be evaluated. Both standard liver biopsy and Fibroscan help diagnosis any liver damage and help stage the liver’s condition.
MRI, CAT scan, or angiography
These scans are done if other tests indicate the presence of tumors.
Do you experience long-term side effects from hep C treatment?