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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 affects the liver. It 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 healthcare provider 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. Diagnosis of a current infection is based on the presence of the IgM antibody to the hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc) and a viral substance called surface antigen (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 need this test if your healthcare provider suspects you have hepatitis caused by a virus. Depending on the type of infection, your symptoms can include:

  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

  • Fatigue

  • Pale-colored stool

  • Dark urine

  • Stomach upset

  • Weight loss

  • Unusual bleeding and bruising

  • Fever

  • Belly pain

  • Swelling in the belly and lower legs

  • Loss of appetite

  • Visible blood vessels in the skin 

  • Confusion in extreme cases

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Your healthcare provider 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 other tests to look for viral DNA or RNA. Testing for other hepatitis viruses may also be performed. 

What do my test results mean?

Test results may vary depending on your age, gender, health history, the method used for the test, and other things. Your test results may not mean you have a problem. Ask your healthcare provider what your test results mean for you. 

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 shows up 3 to 4 weeks after you are exposed to the virus. The antibody peaks about a month after symptoms appear, and typically can't be detected 3 to 4 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. The HBsAgis usually found if you have either acute or chronic infection. It usually shows up 2 to 6 weeks after you are exposed to the virus. The antigen peaks shortly before or after symptoms begin, and typically can't be detected 1 to 3 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 6 to 12 months after you are exposed to the virus. 

How is this test done?

The test is done with a blood sample. A needle is used to draw blood from a vein in your arm or hand. 

Does this test pose any risks?

Having a blood test with a needle carries some risks. These include bleeding, infection, bruising, and feeling lightheaded. When the needle pricks your arm or hand, you may feel a slight sting or pain. Afterward, the site may be sore. 

What might affect my test results?

A past infection with hepatitis A can give a false-positive result. This means it shows you have a current infection even though you do not.

How do I get ready for this test?

You don't need to prepare for this test. But talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for hepatitis infection. Be sure your healthcare provider 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: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Haldeman-Englert, Chad, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2017
© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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