Hepatitis is a group of viral liver diseases, including hepatitis A, B, and C. Doctors use a hepatitis panel, a type of blood test, to diagnose hepatitis.

Hepatitis can cause serious long-term complications, such as liver damage. Hepatitis panels are an important tool for identifying and treating the condition early.

Continue reading to learn what a hepatitis panel is, who needs one, and what to expect from the test.

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Hepatitis is a type of liver disease. The disease is caused by viral infections including hepatitis A, B, and C. Each hepatitis virus spreads and develops differently:

  • Hepatitis A: This virus typically spreads through eating contaminated food or coming into contact with feces. Some people can also contract hepatitis A from sexual contact. Most people will recover from hepatitis A without lasting liver damage.
  • Hepatitis B: The hepatitis B virus spreads through semen, blood, or other bodily fluids. Some people recover quickly from hepatitis B, but others can experience chronic liver disease.
  • Hepatitis C: This virus typically spreads through contact with blood, commonly through sharing needles. Many people who have hepatitis C will develop chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.

A hepatitis panel is a blood test used to detect a hepatitis infection. It includes tests for hepatitis antigens and antibodies.

Antigens are substances that cause an immune response. Antibodies are proteins that the immune system produces to fight infections. Tests can detect these substances before symptoms appear.

Someone may need a hepatitis panel if they have symptoms of liver damage, including:

A person may also have risk factors that indicate a need for a hepatitis panel, such as:

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend hepatitis B testing for people who:

  • have HIV
  • have hepatitis C
  • require immunosuppressive therapy
  • have end stage renal disease
  • have elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels

Hepatitis B testing is also recommended for pregnant people, men who have sex with men, and infants born to a parent with the infection.

The CDC recommends hepatitis C testing for:

  • people over the age of 18 years
  • pregnant people
  • anyone who shares or has ever shared needles
  • people with HIV
  • people with elevated ALT levels
  • anyone who received clotting factor concentrates produced before 1987
  • anyone who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992
  • people who receive maintenance hemodialysis
  • infants born to a parent with hepatitis C

The hepatitis panel is a blood test. A doctor or healthcare worker will take a blood sample from a person’s vein in their arm or hand.

Blood tests are safe, but some possible risks include:

No specific preparation is required for a hepatitis panel.

Anyone undergoing the test can talk with a doctor about their risk factors for hepatitis. They should disclose any medications, vitamins, or supplements that they are taking. These substances may interfere with the test results.

Hepatitis can be a serious condition with long-term consequences. Testing is an effective way of identifying the virus and treating it early to reduce the long-term risks of hepatitis. It can also help to prevent people from passing the infection on to others.

Test results can vary depending on a person’s gender, age, health history, and method of testing. A doctor can explain the results, which are different for each type of hepatitis:

Hepatitis A

Normal results for a hepatitis A test are negative. This means that there were no immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies in the blood.

The IgM antibody shows up 3–4 weeks after exposure to the virus. The antibody peaks one month after symptoms appear and becomes difficult to detect after 3–4 months.

Positive test results can indicate someone has or previously had hepatitis A. In some cases, the positive test result could be an error and will require further testing.

Hepatitis B

Normal results for a hepatitis B test are negative, which means that there were no hepatitis B antigens (HBsAg) in the blood. Doctors typically interpret HBsAg in the blood as an acute or chronic infection.

This typically occurs 2­–6 weeks after exposure to the virus. The antigen peaks shortly before or after symptoms begin and is difficult to detect 1­–3 months after this peak.

Hepatitis C

Normal results for hepatitis C are negative, which indicates that there were no immunoglobulin G antibodies in the blood. These antibodies typically peak after 6­–12 months of exposure to the virus.

A positive test for hepatitis could mean someone has hepatitis and requires treatment. People who receive a positive test result should discuss their options with a doctor.

There are different outcomes and expectations for each type of hepatitis:

  • Hepatitis A: This causes an acute infection that most people will recover from without long-term complications. Doctors rarely treat the hepatitis A virus but may prescribe medications to reduce symptoms.
  • Hepatitis B: If a person tests positive for hepatitis B, doctors will provide care and check for signs of chronic infection. There is no cure for chronic hepatitis B, but doctors may prescribe antiviral medications to slow disease progression and prevent liver complications.
  • Hepatitis C: People who test positive for hepatitis C typically require an RNA test to confirm the diagnosis. Hepatitis C requires immediate treatment. Direct-acting antiviral medications can treat hepatitis C in 90% of people in 8–12 weeks.

A hepatitis panel is a blood test for hepatitis A, B, and C infections. People may require a hepatitis panel for several reasons, including coming into contact with someone with one of these infections. The test checks for various antibodies and antigens, which can indicate the presence and type of hepatitis.

Some people will require no treatment or minimal treatment, such as most people with hepatitis A infections. Other people will require additional tests and immediate treatment, such as those who test positive for hepatitis C.