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Hepatitis C Tests

Hepatitis C infection often has no symptoms. But your doctor may suspect you have it if you have a high level of certain liver enzymes.

Antibody Test

The first test used to check for hepatitis C infection is a blood test for the hepatitis C antibody. Your body makes this antibody when it is infected with the hepatitis C virus. The doctor can send the blood to a lab to be checked, or use a rapid test called OraQuick. The rapid test takes about 20 minutes.

If the antibody test doesn't find anything, then you probably don't have hepatitis C. But if you have been exposed to hepatitis C within the past 6 months, you will need to be tested again later to be sure.

The antibody tests are not perfect. They may show a hepatitis C infection when you do not have one. It may also wrongly show you have hepatitis C if you had it in the past and your body cleared the infection.

PCR Test

If the antibody test finds antibodies, your doctor will do another test called a PCR test using the same blood sample. The PCR test looks for the genetic material of the hepatitis C virus living in your body.

If the PCR test does not find anything, you might have had hepatitis C in the past and your body cleared it. Your doctor may repeat the test to be sure.

If both tests show you have hepatitis C, then you are infected and need treatment.

After the Diagnosis

Before treatment starts, you may have a liver biopsy. A biopsy shows the amount of liver damage caused by the virus. In a biopsy, the doctor inserts a special needle through the skin and into the liver. A small sample of liver tissue is removed. 

Another test used for finding the amount of damage to the liver is called a Fibrosure blood test. Your doctor will know which test is best for you.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 19, 2014

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