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Hepatitis Panel

Does this test have other names?

HbsAg, HbcAB IgM, HA AB IgM, Hep C AB; hepatitis B surface antigen; hepatitis B core antibody IgM; hepatitis A antibody IgM; hepatitis C antibodies 

What is this test?

This is a panel of blood tests that looks to see whether you have a hepatitis virus infection. The tests look for either antibodies that your body has made against a hepatitis virus or parts of a specific virus.

Hepatitis, which affects the liver, is commonly caused by one of several hepatitis viruses. Hepatitis A, B, and C viruses are especially likely to cause liver damage. These infect people through different routes and cause varying degrees of liver problems.

Hepatitis A is spread by coming in contact with contaminated stool. You can also catch it through sexual intercourse, by eating food prepared by an infected person who didn't wash his or her hands after using the bathroom, from contaminated food or water, or by putting an object in your mouth that came into contact with an infected person's stool. This test panel looks for the IgM antibody that your body makes to fight this virus. Hepatitis A infection usually clears up without treatment after a few weeks.  If your symptoms continue, you need to see your doctor again.

Hepatitis B is spread by coming in contact with infected bodily fluids, including semen and blood. It can also be spread through sexual intercourse, unsterilized tattoo equipment, or hypodermic needles. The test panel measures a viral substance called surface antigen, or HBsAg. This virus can cause a long-lasting infection.

Hepatitis C is spread by coming in contact with blood from an infected person through sexual intercourse, unsterilized tattoo equipment, or hypodermic needles. This test looks for the IgG antibody your body makes to fight the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C infections usually become long-lasting. 

Why do I need this test?

You may have this test if your doctor suspects you have hepatitis caused by a virus. Depending on the type of infection, your symptoms can include:

  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes

  • Fatigue

  • Pale-colored stool

  • Dark urine

  • Stomach upset

  • Weight loss

  • Unusual bleeding and bruising

  • Fever

  • Abdominal pain

  • Swelling in the abdomen and lower legs

  • Loss of appetite

  • Visible blood vessels in the skin 

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Your doctor may order other tests to help diagnose viral hepatitis. These may include liver functions tests such as:

  • Alanine aminotransferase, or ALT

  • Aspartate aminotransferase, or AST

  • Gamma-glutamyltransferase, or GGT

  • Albumin

  • Bilirubin

  • Prothrombin time, or PT

Liver function tests look for enzymes in your blood that mean liver problems. They also test your liver's ability to make certain substances and look at  how well your liver filters your blood.

You may need additional tests to look for viral DNA or RNA. 

What do my test results mean?

Many things may affect your lab test results. These include the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your health care provider.

Test results for these viruses can mean you have:

  • Hepatitis A. Normal results are negative, meaning you don't have the IgM antibody in your blood. The antibody appears three to four weeks after you are exposed to the virus. The antibody peaks about a month after symptoms appear, and typically can't be detected three to four months after symptoms begin. If your test results are positive, it doesn't necessarily mean you have a current infection. It may mean you had an infection in the past or it's a false-positive.  

  • Hepatitis B. Normal results are negative, meaning you don't have the HBsAg antigen in your blood. It's usually found if you have either acute or chronic infection. It usually appears two to six weeks after you are exposed to the virus. The antigen peaks shortly before or after symptoms begin, and typically can't be detected one to three months after it peaks.

  • Hepatitis C. Normal results are negative, meaning you don't have the IgG antibody in your blood. The antibody may peak six to 12 months after you are exposed to the virus. 

How is this test done?

The test requires a blood sample, which is drawn through a needle from a vein in your arm.

Does this test pose any risks?

Taking a blood sample with a needle carries risks that include bleeding, infection, bruising, or feeling dizzy. When the needle pricks your arm, you may feel a slight stinging sensation or pain. Afterward, the site may be slightly sore. 

What might affect my test results?

A past infection with hepatitis A can give a false-positive for a current infection.

How do I get ready for this test?

You don't need to prepare for this test.  But talk with your health care provider about your risk factors for hepatitis infection.  In addition, be sure your doctor knows about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that don't need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Last Review Date: 5/17/2012
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