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Diagnostic Tests Used for Hepatitis C

Currently, there are a few different diagnostic tests which are used to detect the presence of the hepatitis C virus in the body. While more efficient methods are being tested in hepatitis C clinical trials, the most common tests that are used to diagnose hepatitis C are:

  • Recombinant Immunoblot Assay
  • HCV Antibody Enzyme Immunoassay or ELISA
  • Quantitative HCV RNA Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)

The ribonucleic acid of HCV can often be detected by the PCR test within a week or two after the hepatitis C infection. This can be a better choice than testing for antibodies, as these tend to take longer to form. Chronic cases of hepatitis C are based on the presence of HCV RNA that has been present in the body longer than 6 months. A lot of chronic hep C cases are diagnosed later during some routine screening or because of elevated liver enzyme levels. If you experience any of the indications of hepatitis C, then please contact your primary health care provider.

Screening for Hepatitis C

If you have a high risk of coming in contact with HCV, than your doctor will suggest a liver screening. This may also be a good time to initiate treatment or suggest certain lifestyle adjustments that could help prevent further damage to the liver. Hepatitis C can cause significant damage to the liver before it produces any noticeable symptoms, so these prior steps could save your life.

These are just some of the reasons why you may want to think about talking with your primary health care provider about getting screened for hepatitis C:

  • Your mother was diagnosed with hepatitis C
  • You’re a healthcare worker and could have been exposed on the job
  • You have been a long term hemodialysis patient
  • You have had sexual intercourse with someone who was infected with HCV
  • You received a donated organ or blood transfusion before 1992

Hepatitis C Blood Tests

With the help of blood tests, doctors can determine:

  • If there is HCV present
  • The patient’s viral load
  • Their best treatment options

Blood tests are usually the first step in diagnosing hepatitis C, since doctors need to establish if their is any HCV present. These tests look for HCV antibodies using an enzyme immunoassay. HCV positive test results need to be confirmed with a second test, which also determines viral load and quantity. The test can return positive even when there is no RNA present, this only means that the patient had a prior infection which was cleared.

Liver Biopsy

Depending on the case, doctors may need to perform a liver biopsy in order to determine the level of liver damage in their patient. However, there are some minor complications that have been associated with this procedure. A liver biopsy involves the insertion of a very thin needle that gets inserted through the skin into the patient’s liver to obtain a small tissue sample. This is one of the best ways to determine the patient’s overall condition and best treatment options moving forward.

Any of the following could be an indication of hepatitis C:

  • Lymphoid particles in the portal area of the liver
  • Unusual changes in the bile ducts
  • Lymphocytes within the parenchyma

Once someone has been diagnosed with hepatitis C, their doctor will encourage them to make certain lifestyle changes while living with an infectious disease. These lifestyle changes will not only help keep hepatitis C patients healthy for longer, but also prevent further spread of the virus.