What You Need to Know about Hepatitis C
Tracking Hepatitis C in Your Body: Blood Tests & Biopsies
Some people with hepatitis C get severe liver damage. Others never get very sick. Most people do not have any symptoms until they have serious problems. So how can you find out what hepatitis C is doing to your liver?
Blood tests are one way to find out how hepatitis C is affecting your body. There are two kinds of blood tests your doctor may do:
- Liver function tests measure substances in your blood to look for warning signs of liver damage. But hepatitis C can be tricky. A blood test may be normal even though your liver is being damaged. Or, a blood test may not be normal even though your liver is healthy. Liver function tests are most useful when done on a regular basis (once or twice a year) to look for long-term patterns in how your liver works.
- A viral load test measures the amount of hepatitis C virus in your body. A viral load test is usually done once when you are diagnosed and once or twice when making treatment decisions. If you decide to get treated for hepatitis C, your doctor will use viral load tests to see how well the treatment is working.
Blood tests are helpful, but they don't tell the whole story. To get a better idea of how hepatitis C is affecting you, your doctor may want to look at your liver directly by doing a liver biopsy.
In a liver biopsy, the doctor uses a long, thin needle to remove some tissue from your liver. The doctor will look closely at the liver tissue to see if it is damaged. This is the most exact way to find out what hepatitis C has done to your liver. Not everybody needs to have a liver biopsy, but it may be helpful if you are thinking about treatment.
A liver biopsy is usually not very painful. You do not need to be "knocked out." Instead, the doctor will numb your stomach area before the biopsy. Very rarely, a person may bleed or have severe pain after a biopsy. Although this does not happen often, the doctor will want you to stay at the hospital for a few hours after your biopsy - even if you feel fine - to make sure there are no problems.