Hepatitis C Diagnosis & Tests
Currently there are a variety of diagnostic tests that are available for hepatitis C. Some of the common tests for hepatitis C include:
• recombinant immunoblot assay
• HCV antibody enzyme immunoassay or ELISA
• quantitative HCV RNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
The HCV ribonucleic acid can typically be detected by the PCR within one to two weeks after the hepatitis C infection. This can be a beneficial choice over testing for antibodies, as these can take substantially more to form. The chronic hepatitis C infection is classified based on the presence of HCV RNA persisting for more than 6 months. More commonly, chronic hepatitis C is diagnosed decades later following an investigation of elevated liver enzyme levels or a routine screening for high risk individuals. If you think you are experiencing the signs and symptoms of Hep C, consult your doctor immediately.
(If you have not been treated for this infectious disease, then you may qualify for our hepatitis C clinical trial in DeLand, FL.)
Hepatitis C Screening
Doctors tend to suggest screenings for people who are at a high risk of coming into contact with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). This can serve as a good place to start treatment or just recommend some lifestyle changes which may help to slow liver damage. Doctors want to do what they can to prevent any liver damage, because hepatitis C often causes damage before there are any signs or symptoms.
There are a number of reasons why people may want to consider talking to their doctors about a hep C screening, which includes:
• Being born to a mother who has hepatitis C.
• Any emergency or health care providers who may have come into contact with contaminated blood or accidently pricked with a needle
• Anyone who has undergone long term hemodialysis treatment
• Any individual who has ever used a needle to inject illegal drugs
• Anyone who received a organ transplant or blood diffusion before 1992
• Anyone who has had sexual intercourse with a HCV infected person
Hepatitis C Blood Tests
Getting a blood test can help doctors:
• Determine presence of HCV
• Determine the patients viral load
• Determine treatment options
Testing for the hepatitis C virus typically begins with a blood test, which will determine if there is any HCV in the patient. The test will look for the presence of hepatitis C virus antibodies using what is known as an enzyme immunoassay. If the patient ends up testing positive for HCV, then doctors will first run a confirmatory test which will verify the results of the immunoassay. This second test will also determine the quantity of hepatitis C virus in the blood or the viral load of the disease. The viral load of the patient is determined based on the HCV RNA polymerase chain reaction. In some cases the immunoblot may come back positive but there is no RNA present in the patient’s blood. This means that the patient had a previous infection, but it was cleared either spontaneously or through treatment.
Biopsy of the Liver
Depending on the patient, doctors may recommend that they undergo a procedure to remove a small sample of liver tissue or a liver biopsy. This will be used to determine the degree of liver damage present, but there are some risks involved with the procedure. During the liver biopsy, a small thin needle is inserted through the patient’s skin into the liver in order to remove the tissue sample. This is an effective procedure for determining the severity of the disease and guiding future treatment options.
Typically doctors are looking for the following in a liver biopsy:
• Lymphocytes within the parenchyma
• Lymphoid particles in the portal area of the liver
• Any changes to the bile ducts
Current Treatments for Hepatitis C
As mentioned earlier, there are a number of hepatitis C infections which cure themselves spontaneously. So, being diagnosed with hepatitis C doesn’t automatically mean that treatment is required. Currently, most doctors base a patient’s need for treatment on their risk of future liver problems.
One of the more common routes of treatment used for hepatitis C is antiviral medication which is intended to clear the virus from the body. These antiviral medications may be prescribed in a combination to be taken over the course of several weeks. Patients will receive a blood test after this first course, and if the virus is still detected in the blood, a second course of meds may be prescribed. Patients who are taking antiviral medications should be aware that there are some negative side effects that have been associated with this treatment.
A liver transplant may be required in more advanced hepatitis C cases, where the liver has been severely damaged. This can be a risky procedure, not to mention that there is often a wait for an available liver. The liver transplant if successful will not cure the virus, and patients will most likely have to undergo another course of antiviral medication. During this procedure, a surgeon will remove the damaged liver and replaces it with a healthy donor. Deceased donors provide the majority of healthy livers, but a small number come from living donors who chose to donate a portion of their liver.
Lifestyle Changes for Hepatitis C Patients
Once the diagnosis of hepatitis C is made, a doctor will strongly recommend some lifestyle changes that a patient should make. These lifestyle changes will not only help keep hepatitis C patients healthy for longer, but also prevent further spread of the virus.
Doctors recommend that:
• No more alcohol: Hepatitis C patients need to stop drinking alcohol because this will speed up the progression of liver disease.
• No medications which could damage the liver: A patient’s doctor will review their current medications, including any over-the-counter medications. A doctor will recommend avoiding certain medications for now on.
• Help to prevent the further spread of the virus: Patients will be strongly advised to cover up any open wounds. No more sharing of razors or toothbrushes. Obviously, hepatitis C patients cannot ever donate blood, any organs, or even semen. Also, they need to make sure to inform health care workers that they have HCV.
• Stay Healthy: This one is pretty basic but it can really help people with hepatitis C. This includes eating a more healthy diet, exercise more during the week, and staying well rested.