Hepatitis C can be a deadly disease. As symptoms often do not appear until the disease has progressed significantly, liver damage can occur in addition to liver failure, liver cancer, and cirrhosis. Some do have hepatitis C for only a short period of time, but in most cases the virus becomes chronic. Often this disease is spread when drug users share needles. Some who had an organ transplant or blood transfusion before 1992 may also be infected as blood and organs were not screened for this disease before then. Tattoo parlors may also be another source of infection.
If your doctor suspects you might have hepatitis C, he will review your medical history and do a complete exam. Often though, this disease will be caught during a routine exam or when you go to donate blood. When high liver enzymes are detected, this is what alerts your doctor to the possibility of infection. When this happens, he will order liver function tests. The purpose of these tests is to determine if you have liver damage.
A hepatitis C virus test will most likely be conducted also. This blood test looks for any antibodies that are present which fight the virus. If they are present, next you will have another blood test to detect the presence of any hepatitis C virus genetic material which determines your exposure to the infection. This test will also show if you are currently infected. When conducting these tests, your doctor will also explain the advantages and disadvantages of these tests while also explaining what a positive hepatitis C diagnosis will mean for you now and in the future.
If the blood tests show that you are infected with the hepatitis C virus, a liver biopsy may be ordered. This will show the extent of the liver damage. A needle will be inserted between the ribs. A small section of liver tissue will be collected so it may be examined under a microscope. Other tests that may be performed include an MRI, ultrasound, or CT scan to ensure you do not have liver cancer. Your doctor may also recommend a blood test to determine the type of hepatitis C you have as this will help determine the proper treatment protocol.
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