Hepatitis C is a condition that results in the inflammation of the liver. The inflammation has both acute and chronic phases. Hepatitis C is a debilitating disease and can lead to complete liver failure and death if not dealt with properly.
Your doctor might order a Hepatitis C test for you after coming across signs and symptoms of the disease. It is also possible that your condition never showed any symptoms, but your doctor ordered a Hepatitis C test after your labs came back abnormal. You might also be an appropriate candidate for further evaluation if your clinical history reveals any high-risk factors for acquiring Hepatitis C.
Both the acute and chronic phases of the disease have characteristic symptoms that help a physician form an accurate diagnosis. However, sometimes the disease can be silent. You can have a Hepatitis C virus in your blood and not know about it. Routine examinations and regular blood work help catch these silent carriers before the disease progresses to a critical level.
WHY WOULD A DOCTOR ORDER A HEP C TEST FOR ME?
Hepatitis C is a dangerous liver condition. Early diagnosis, prompt treatment, and meticulous care are essential in patients with Hepatitis C. Your doctor may order a Hepatitis C test for you if:
- You have symptoms of the disease
- You are symptomatic but have deranged blood work
- You have several risk factors for Hepatitis C
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF HEPATITIS C
When making a diagnosis for Hepatitis C, doctors rely significantly on the signs and symptoms exhibited in the patient. Your doctor may order a Hepatitis C test for you if you show any of the below signs and symptoms:
- Bleeding from gums or uncontrollable bleeding from new wounds
- Easy bruising of the skin
- Easy fatigability
- Decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting
- Yellowing of the sclera and the mucous membrane
The following symptoms may also appear with the onset of advanced disease:
- Itchy skin
- Fluid buildup in the abdomen
- Confusion, speech problems
- Swollen legs
- Spider-like blood vessels on the abdomen
DERANGED BLOOD WORK
Symptoms form an integral part of making a diagnosis of Hepatitis C. However, it is also possible for someone to be infected with HCV and not have a single symptom until the onset of advanced disease. A person may not show symptoms until very late in the course of the disease. It is also possible that the acute phase of the disease subsided itself after onset and lurked around in the liver until the disease became chronic. These silent or asymptomatic cases are caught on routine tests. Slight derangement in routine blood work may indicate a hidden abnormality which might prompt a doctor to investigate further with Hepatitis C testing.
RISK FACTORS FOR HEPATITIS C
Your doctor may also order a Hepatitis C test for you if they detect that you have any risk factors. Risk factors are high-risk behaviors that put an individual at a relatively increased risk of developing a particular disease than the rest of the population. Risk factors for acquiring Hepatitis C include:
- Drug injection history
- Presence of STDs, especially HIV
- Recent blood transfusions
- Positive family history of Hepatitis C
- High-risk profession for Hepatitis C, such as healthcare worker
- Undergoing dialysis treatment
- A recent tattoo or a piercing
Identifying risk factors allow physicians to make an early assessment of someone's health status. This assessment is then further confirmed through testing. Routine blood tests can show raised bilirubin (jaundice) and other metrics which warrant further investigations. Serum protein abnormality and a deranged clotting profile further confirm the suspicion, which is then verified through specialized Hepatitis C tests.
HOW IS HEP C DIAGNOSED?
Once the suspicion of Hepatitis C is confirmed, and most other differential diagnoses are excluded from the list, definitive testing for Hepatitis C can be done. Hepatitis C can be diagnosed accurately through specialized blood tests. Two types of Hepatitis C tests are available. These tests have different working principles, and they serve different purposes.
This is a blood test that is designed to detect anti-HCV antibodies in a patient’s bloodstream. During the acute phase of a Hepatitis C infection, your body develops antibodies against the virus in an attempt to subdue the infection. These are called anti-HCV antibodies. Once made, these antibodies persist in your blood for the rest of your life, even if you get successfully treated for Hepatitis C.
Thus, a positive anti-HCV test serves as evidence of a Hepatitis C infection at some point in your life. It could be a past infection or a current infection. However, this test cannot determine whether the antibodies are from a previous Hep C episode or a current infection in your body.
HEPATITIS C RNA TEST
The RNA test for Hepatitis C tests for the presence of the genetic material of the Hepatitis C virus. Once the presence of anti-HCV antibodies is confirmed, RNA testing is done to determine if the evidence points to past infection or current infection.
Hepatitis C RNA test is of two types: qualitative and quantitative. A quantitative test determines the presence of a current infection, while a qualitative test determines the viral load (amount of viral RNA in your blood).
A third type of test is also available for Hepatitis C, known as the genotype test. This test determines which genotype of the Hepatitis C virus you are infected with. A total of six different genotype variants of the Hepatitis C virus exist.
HOW IS GETTING TESTED FOR HEP C BENEFICIAL?
There are multiple benefits for getting tested for Hepatitis C. For starters, Hepatitis C can manifest without any apparent signs and symptoms, as mentioned above. Getting tested for Hepatitis C when routine blood tests show abnormalities is beneficial for catching these silent infections early in their course.
Getting tested for Hep C is quick and easy. Only a blood sample is required, and the test results come back pretty quick. Some labs can take a few days to return your test results. However, many doctor's clinics have rapid HCV testing kits that yield results in 20 minutes.
Getting tested for Hepatitis C is crucial because it helps you protect the ones you love. Hepatitis C can be spread to other people through several means. Sexual intercourse with your partner and blood transfusions with someone in your family puts them at risk of acquiring the virus from you. Pregnant mothers can also transmit the Hepatitis C virus to their babies in the womb.
Early detection of the virus is ideal because a working treatment is available for Hepatitis C. The current anti-viral treatment can completely cure Hepatitis C. Therefore, early detection of the condition can help minimize the damage to your liver and the development of any serious complications.
WHAT IF MY HEPATITIS C TEST RESULTS COME BACK POSITIVE?
Chances are that your test results will come back positive even if you have even a single risk factor for Hepatitis C. A diagnosis of Hepatitis C used to be dreadful in the past. However, modern drug therapy has made it possible to cure the disease completely.
If your anti-HCV test result is reactive (positive), your doctor will advise an HCV RNA test. If both the antibody and the RNA tests are positive, your doctor will start you on anti-viral drug therapy. This drug therapy can cure Hepatitis C in most patients in 8 to 12 weeks.
If your anti-HCV test is non-reactive, it means that you don't have Hepatitis C and you never did before as well. However, if you suspect that you have had an HCV exposure in the past six months, or if your doctor detects any high-risk factors for Hep C, a repeat anti-HCV test may be necessary.
Q) Does It Mean That I Have Hepatitis C If My Antibody Test Is Positive?
No. The presence of anti-HCV antibodies alone does not indicate the presence of a current Hepatitis C infection. It might also mean that you were infected with Hepatitis C in the past, and the infection subsided independently. HCV RNA test is required to confirm the presence of an ongoing infection.
Q) Does Having HIV Put Me At A Greater Risk For Acquiring An HCV Infection?
Yes, HIV-positive individuals report higher incidents of a Hepatitis C infection as compared to HIV-negative individuals. Often, people who have HIV also have an asymptomatic HCV lurking around in their liver. Having other STDs also puts you at a greater risk of acquiring an HCV infection.
Q) Can I Have Sexual Intercourse With My Partner If I Have Hepatitis C?
Although Hepatitis C can be transmitted through sexual contact, it is not as common as HIV transmission. The risk is further lowered if you are taking appropriate medication to treat your HCV infection. Condoms further reduce the risk of transmission to your partner. Talk to your doctor for a detailed assessment of transmission risks involved with sexual contact.