A hepatitis panel is a group of blood tests that checks whether you have a viral hepatitis infection now or had one in the past. It may also show that you are immune to certain types of hepatitis because you had a vaccination.
Hepatitis is a type of liver disease that causes inflammation of the liver. The most common cause of hepatitis is a group of viruses called hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. A hepatitis panel is a blood test that checks to see if you have a hepatitis infection caused by one of these viruses.
Hepatitis viruses spread in different ways. They affect your health in different ways, too:
- Hepatitis A is commonly spread by eating or drinking food or water that has been contaminated with even the tiniest traces of stool (poop) from an infected person. This may happen if an infected person doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. Most people recover from hepatitis A on their own without any lasting liver damage.
- Hepatitis B is spread by contact with body fluids from an infected person, such as blood, semen, and saliva (spit). The contact usually happens from having sex with an person who has the infection or by sharing needles or other items used for injecting drugs. Most people recover from a hepatitis B infection on their own with no lasting liver damage. But some people may have a chronic (long-term) infection, which can lead to chronic liver disease and liver cancer. Anti-viral medicine may help chronic cases.
- Hepatitis C is spread by contact with blood from an infected person. This usually happens through sharing needles or other items used for injecting drugs. Most people who get hepatitis C will have a chronic infection. In most cases, medicine can cure hepatitis C. Without treatment, chronic hepatitis C may lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.
A hepatitis panel includes tests for hepatitis antigens and antibodies:
- Hepatitis antigens are substances in the hepatitis virus that trigger your immune system to fight the virus.
- Hepatitis antibodies are proteins that your immune system makes to help fight a hepatitis infection.
Hepatitis antigens and antibodies can be found in your blood even if you don’t have symptoms of an infection.
Other names: acute hepatitis panel, viral hepatitis panel, hepatitis screening panel
What is it used for?
A hepatitis panel is used to find out if you have an active hepatitis A or B infection now or if you had one in the past. It is also used to find out if you’ve ever been infected with hepatitis C. But the test can’t tell the difference between a past hepatitis C infection and an infection you have now.
If a hepatitis panel shows that you may have hepatitis, you’ll usually need more tests to learn about your condition.
Why do I need a hepatitis panel?
You may need a hepatitis panel if you were exposed to someone who has viral hepatitis or if you have symptoms of hepatitis. Hepatitis doesn’t always cause symptoms, but when it does, they may include:
- Jaundice, a condition that causes your skin and eyes to turn yellow
- Loss of appetite
- Dark-colored urine
- Pale or clay-colored stool (poop)
- Abdominal (belly) pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Joint pain
- Diarrhea (with hepatitis A only)
Your health care provider may order a hepatitis panel if you had an abnormal result on a liver panel or if you have a high risk of having a viral hepatitis infection. Your risk may be high if you:
- Have been in close contact with someone infected with hepatitis
- Share or have shared needles to use drugs
- Have a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Are a man who has sex with men (MSM)
- Are on long-term dialysis
- Have a job that may expose you to hepatitis, such as health care, daycare, or public safety
- Had an organ transplant or a blood transfusion before 1992
- Have traveled to areas with a lack of safe water and poor sanitation
What happens during a hepatitis panel?
A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
At-home testing kits are available for hepatitis B and C. Usually the test kit will include a sharp device, (a lancet) to prick your finger so you can collect a drop of blood to send to a lab for testing. For more information on at-home testing for hepatitis, talk to your provider.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
You don’t need any special preparations for a hepatitis panel.
Are there any risks to the test?
There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
What do the results mean?
Labs report hepatitis panel results in different ways:
- A negative or normal result means you probably don’t have a hepatitis infection.
- A positive or abnormal result may mean you have a hepatitis infection now or had an infection in the past.
For hepatitis A and B, your test results will say whether you have a current or past infection, or if you have immunity because you had a vaccination.
If your test shows that you have signs of hepatitis C, you will need another test to find out if you are infected now, or if you had an infection in the past. There is no vaccination for hepatitis C.
You may need more tests to confirm a diagnosis and to see how hepatitis has affected your liver. If you have questions about your results, talk with your provider.
Is there anything else I need to know about a hepatitis panel?
There are vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Talk with your health provider if you or your children should get vaccinated.
Courtesy of MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine.