What Other Tests Might I Have?
Once you’ve been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, your doctor will likely order a number of tests to find out about the health of your liver and decide on a treatment plan that’s most appropriate for you.
Hepatitis C Genotype
The Hepatitis C genotype refers to a specific “strain” or type of the Hepatitis C virus. There are six major types of Hepatitis C around the world: genotypes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. In the United States, genotypes 1, 2, and 3 are common:
- Genotype 1: Most Americans(nearly 75%) with Hepatitis C have this type
- Genotype 2: About 10% of Americans with Hepatitis C have this type
- Genotype 3: About 6% of Americans with Hepatitis C have this type
The genotype of Hepatitis C does not change over time, so you only need to get tested once.
Genotype tests are done before a person starts treatment. Hepatitis C treatment works differently for different genotypes, so knowing your genotype helps your doctor choose the best treatment for you.
In general, genotype 1 is more resistant or difficult to treat. Genotypes 2 and 3 are more sensitive and easier to treat. Because of this, treatment for genotype 1 usually lasts for one year, while treatment for genotypes 2 and 3 usually last for six months.
Now that you have Hepatitis C, your liver may not work as well. Normally, the liver produces particular enzymes, which are chemicals your liver uses to do its work. “ALT” and “AST” are two of these liver enzymes.
If your liver is damaged due to inflammation, these enzymes pass out of your liver into your bloodstream, making the levels of ALT and AST higher than normal. However, it is common for people with chronic Hepatitis C to have liver enzyme levels that go up and down over time, sometimes returning to normal for as long as a year. So even if you have Hepatitis C, it is possible for your liver enzyme tests to come back as normal.
Liver enzyme levels do not tell you how much scarring (fibrosis) there is in your liver and they do not predict how much liver damage will develop.
Liver Function Tests
Liver functions tests or “LFTs” generally refer to a group of blood tests that help determine how well your liver is “functioning.” They are used to help detect, evaluate and monitor liver disease or damage. In addition, they can sometimes indicate other diseases, such as bone disease or malnutrition.
Testing for Hepatitis A and B
Your doctor will test to see if your body is immune to Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. If not, he or she will recommend that you be vaccinated against these two viruses, to eliminate the chance of you becoming infected.
In order to determine whether the virus has caused scarring to your liver, your doctor may order a liver biopsy. During a biopsy, your doctor will insert a needle between your ribs into your liver to collect a small sample of liver tissue for laboratory testing.
Your doctor may order tests that take images, or pictures, of your liver to make sure you do not have liver cancer. Different types of images can be obtained by using various types of equipment including ultrasound, a CT (computerized tomography) scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
Ask your doctor to explain all your test results and don’t hesitate to ask questions. This will help you have a better understanding of what’s happening in your body and why he or she is recommending a particular course of treatment.