Hepatitis Test (Liver Blood Test)

The hepatitis test is a panel of blood tests that screen for hepatitis virus infection. The tests look for antibodies that your body makes against a hepatitis virus or against parts of a specific virus.

Hepatitis affects the liver. It is commonly caused by one of several hepatitis viruses. Hepatitis A, B, and C viruses are especially likely to cause liver damage. These infect people through different routes and cause varying degrees of liver problems.

Hepatitis A is spread by coming in contact with contaminated stool. You can also catch it through sexual intercourse, by eating food prepared by an infected person, from contaminated food or water or by putting an object in your mouth that came into contact with an infected person's stool. This test panel looks for the IgM antibody that your body makes to fight this virus. Hepatitis A infection usually clears up without treatment after a few weeks. If your symptoms continue, you need to see your physician again.

Hepatitis B is spread by coming in contact with infected bodily fluids, including semen and blood. It can also be spread through sexual intercourse, unsterilized tattoo equipment or hypodermic needles. The test panel measures a viral substance called surface antigen, or HBsAg. This virus can cause a long-lasting infection.

Hepatitis C is spread by coming in contact with blood from an infected person through sexual intercourse, unsterilized tattoo equipment, or hypodermic needles. This test looks for the IgG antibody your body makes to fight the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C infections usually become long-lasting.

Why do I need this test?

You may have this liver blood test if your physician suspects you have hepatitis caused by a virus. Depending on the type of infection, your symptoms can include:
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Fatigue
  • Pale-colored stool
  • Dark urine
  • Stomach upset
  • Weight loss
  • Unusual bleeding and bruising
  • Fever
  • Belly (abdominal) pain
  • Swelling in the abdomen and lower legs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Visible blood vessels in the skin
  • Confusion in extreme cases

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Your physician may order other tests to help diagnose viral hepatitis. These may include liver functions tests such as:
  • Alanine aminotransferase, or ALT
  • Aspartate aminotransferase, or AST
  • Gamma-glutamyltransferase, or GGT
  • Albumin
  • Bilirubin
  • Prothrombin time, or PT

Cardio-Med offers these as part of its comprehensive metabolic panel. (The comprehensive metablic panel is part of Cardio-Med's complete physical exam.)

Liver blood tests look for enzymes in your blood that mean liver problems. They also test your liver's ability to make certain substances and look at how well your liver filters your blood.

You may need other tests to look for viral DNA or RNA.

What do my test results mean?

Many things may affect your hepatitis test results. These include the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your physician.

Test results for these viruses can mean you have:

  • Hepatitis A. Normal results are negative, meaning you don't have the IgM antibody in your blood. The antibody shows up 3 to 4 weeks after you are exposed to the virus. The antibody peaks about a month after symptoms appear, and typically can't be detected 3 to 4 months after symptoms begin. If your test results are positive, it doesn't necessarily mean you have a current infection. It may mean you had an infection in the past.
  • Hepatitis B. Normal results are negative, meaning you don't have the HBsAg antigen in your blood. It's usually found if you have either acute or chronic infection. It usually shows up 2 to 6 weeks after you are exposed to the virus. The antigen peaks shortly before or after symptoms begin, and typically is no longer detected 1 to 3 months after it peaks.
  • Hepatitis C. Normal results are negative, meaning you don't have the IgG antibody in your blood. The antibody may peak 6 to 12 months after you are exposed to the virus.

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Adapted from the University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia