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Diagnosing Hepatitis C Virus

A simple blood test, called a hepatitis C antibody (anti-HCV) test, is the first step in getting a diagnosis of hepatitis C virus (HCV). If the HCV antibody test is positive, then the VA laboratory will then perform a hepatitis C RNA test (viral load) to determine whether you are actually infected with HCV.

Your healthcare provider may also perform a physical exam and order certain tests to help check for liver damage. Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your health. He or she may also try to figure out how long you have been infected with HCV. This may mean answering questions that are personal. It’s important to answer honestly. Your answers are confidential and will not affect your VA benefits. You should also mention any symptoms that concern you.

Health care provider taking blood from man's arm.
To test for hepatitis C, blood is taken and sent to a lab. It may take a few weeks to get your test results.

Getting Tested

Blood tests look for substances in your blood that are linked to hepatitis C. These include:

  • Anti-HCV (hepatitis C antibody) test. The body tries to fight HCV by making antibodies to the hepatitis C virus. HCV antibodies are found in the blood of patients who were exposed to the virus. If this test is positive, another test should be done to find out if the infection resolved or if the infection remains.

  • ALT (a liver enzyme) test. Blood may contain higher levels of ALT if the liver has been damaged.

  • HCV RNA (HCV viral load) test. HCV RNA measures the amount of HCV virus in blood. This test is used to confirm the patient has the HCV infection.

  • Hepatitis C Genotype (virus strain) test. There are 6 HCV genotypes. These are different strains of HCV. A blood test can reveal which genotype you have.

Looking for Liver Damage

During an exam, your healthcare provider may feel your abdomen to see if your liver is swollen or painful. Tests may also be done to check your liver for damage. Your healthcare provider will determine if you need any of these tests. These tests may involve other blood and imaging tests such as:

  • Ultrasound. This test uses painless sound waves to create a picture of the liver.

  • Fibroscan. This test uses painless sound waves to determine if there is damage to the liver.

  • CT scan. This is a type of X-ray that shows a detailed picture of the liver.

Checking for Other Infections

HCV infection can be more dangerous if you are also infected with certain other viruses. Your healthcare provider may test you for HIV and for other types of hepatitis (hepatitis A and B). If you have not had hepatitis A or B or are not already vaccinated against them, you may be given shots (vaccines) to protect you from getting them in the future. 

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 12/1/2016
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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