Testing for Hepatitis C: How It Could Save Your Liver

Less than 15% of those most at risk are actually getting tested.

Loading the player...

Some 80 percent of Americans infected with hepatitis C, a virus that can cause chronic and even life-threatening liver disease, are baby boomers (people born between 1945 and 1965). In 2013, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, an independent group of doctors and medical experts that makes guideline recommendations, recommended that all boomers get tested for the virus. But one study found that only 13.8 percent of baby boomers have actually gotten that test (as of 2015, the most recent year for which data is available).

“It’s not usually part of routine blood work,” says internist Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, “so you should ask your doctor about whether getting tested is right for you.”

Getting tested for hepatitis C is recommended for all baby boomers; the CDC also recommends testing to those with risk factors for contracting hepatitis C, such as using injected drugs, or for people who show signs of liver disease.

To diagnose hepatitis C, doctors use different kinds of blood tests. A preliminary tests shows whether you have the antibodies to the virus, which are the substances your body naturally produces to fight off infections.

“If you have a positive antibody test,” says Dr. Knoepflmacher, “that means you’ve been exposed to hepatitis C at some point in your life.” (About 15 to 25 percent of people infected with hepatitis C will clear the virus without any long-term damage to their bodies.) At this point, your doc will order further tests to see if the virus is still in your bloodstream.

Blood tests can also tell you what strain of hepatitis C you have, which affects the exact medication you will need to treat it. Other tests your doctor may run include liver scans and biopsies to test if the liver has sustained any damage or scarring.

The symptoms of hepatitis C are not usually obvious, so the only way to know if you have it in many cases is by getting tested. If you’re not sure whether you’ve been tested or not, talk to your doctor.