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What is Involved in Making a Diagnosis of Hepatitis C?

Debra Durkee
Debra Durkee

A diagnosis of hepatitis C often comes after a series of tests that determine the presence of antibodies that the body produces in order to fight the virus. Often, the process of getting the diagnosis will begin with a healthcare professional asking some personal questions about lifestyle and health, which will determine whether or not individuals are at risk. If they are determined to be at risk for hepatitis C, these questions will typically be followed by a blood test and a physical examination.

Hepatitis C is spread through the blood, and attacks the liver. Questions asked by healthcare professionals help determine if an individual is at risk for having come in contact with the blood of a person that could be infected, the first step before a diagnosis of hepatitis C can be made. Risky behavior can involve the sharing of needles or other instruments used in the administration of drugs, and will often include questions about sexual practices and history. Occasionally the virus can be transmitted through blood transfusions, although that has become increasingly rare as more places have tested donated blood before giving it to patients. Healthcare professionals themselves can also be at risk, especially those who work with or around blood that could be carrying the virus.

An individual must go through several blood tests when diagnosing Hepatitis C.
An individual must go through several blood tests when diagnosing Hepatitis C.

After a series of questions determine whether or not a diagnosis of hepatitis C is likely, the next step is usually a series of blood tests. The first will typically look for the antibodies the body forms in order to fight the virus, including anti-HCV. If these antibodies are present, other tests will look for signature patterns such as the genetic markers of the hepatitis C virus, and will also look for levels of various liver enzymes. Since hepatitis C attacks the liver cells, elevated or abnormal levels of different liver enzymes can indicate there is a problem centered around this organ.

Also helpful in making a diagnosis of hepatitis C is an examination of the liver to determine if it is showing signs of infection or damage. An ultrasound or a computerized tomography (CT) scan can be used to get a picture of the liver. A liver biopsy — a procedure in which a small piece of the liver is removed and then examined for damage — can also be done.

There are six distinct types of the virus, and a thorough diagnosis of hepatitis C will also involve determining which of the strains is present. Within these six different strains are a number of substrains. Determining what is present in the blood as well as determining the viral load, or how predominant the virus is, can guide treatment options and help the individual know not only what to expect but how well treatment will typically work.

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    • An individual must go through several blood tests when diagnosing Hepatitis C.
      By: Alexander Gospodinov
      An individual must go through several blood tests when diagnosing Hepatitis C.