How is hepatitis C diagnosed?

The doctor will take the patient’s medical history and perform a physical examination. As part of the physical exam, the doctor will look for signs of liver damage, including tenderness in the abdomen, swelling in the legs, feet or ankles, or signs of jaundice, such as yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.

Several blood tests may be used to test for hepatitis C. The first blood test is antibody testing for hepatitis C. (The body makes antibodies in response to an infectious substance, such as a virus.)

If antibodies are found, that means that the person was exposed to hepatitis C at some point. A blood test called a PCR RNA can determine if the blood is still infected with the active virus. If the result is positive, it means that the person is currently infected with hepatitis C. If the PCR RNA is negative but the antibody testing was positive, this means that the patient has been exposed to the virus in the past but currently does not have an active infection.

A person who has hepatitis C may have to have a liver biopsy or a liver fibrosis scan (also known as a fibroscan) to tell if the liver is damaged, and how much damage has occurred.

You should be referred to a specialist who has experience in treating hepatitis C as soon as you are diagnosed with active (chronic) hepatitis C infection.

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