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What is Involved in Making a Diagnosis of Hepatitis?

Florence J. Tipton
Florence J. Tipton

Diagnosis of hepatitis may come from having symptoms related to hepatitis, a physical exam, and blood tests. A person may experience symptoms similar to having the flu, but are actually indications of the presence of hepatitis. Often, these symptoms invariably lead to a doctor’s visit for a physical exam to check for more indications that a person is infected with hepatitis. The doctor may order blood tests as part of the diagnosis of hepatitis to determine which form of hepatitis the person has, and the appropriate treatment for a cure.

It is not always easy to diagnose hepatitis, because initial symptoms are often incorrectly characterized as the flu. Patients are generally recommended not to dismiss these symptoms as the flu without receiving further diagnosis, however. Another reason that could make diagnosing hepatitis difficult is some patients may not exhibit any symptoms and still have a hepatitis infection.

Blood tests are often used to diagnose hepatitis.
Blood tests are often used to diagnose hepatitis.

Common symptoms that may indicate the presence of a hepatitis virus include a fever, pain in the abdomen, fatigue, and a decrease in the desire to eat. Other symptoms that could be present are jaundice or stools that are lighter in color than normal. An early diagnosis of hepatitis by a doctor based on the presence of any of these symptoms is important to prevent a chronic progression of the virus.

A physical exam may not immediately reveal the presence of hepatitis, but is generally required to properly diagnosis the virus. Having an exam may help a doctor detect certain signs which may indicate blood tests are appropriate for further diagnosis. Along with the physical exam in the doctor’s office, a medical history and discussion of recent behaviors that could increase risk of exposure is conducted. Recent travel to a country where hepatitis cases are prominent might have exposed the patient to this contagious virus.

During the physical exam, the doctor may conduct a visual check for swelling of extremities such as the feet and legs. He may also examine the eyes and skin for yellowing that might be a sign of jaundice. The exam may also involve taking the patient’s temperature to determine if a fever exists. Checking for swollen glands is also performed during a physical exam in the diagnosis of hepatitis.

If symptoms and the physical exam indicate the possible presence of hepatitis, a blood test is normally ordered to make a further diagnosis of hepatitis. Testing for hepatitis may reveal one of three forms of the virus is present. For hepatitis A, the blood test may indicate an increase of bilirubin, which is a breakdown of protein needed in the blood cells. Blood tests that come back positive for hepatitis B may show an active infection or that the person was previously infected, which could affect the function of, or damage to, the liver. Hepatitis C is diagnosed by a two-step blood test to first check for antibodies in the blood stream. If antibodies are present, the second part of the test checks for the genetic compounds that cause the virus.

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    • Blood tests are often used to diagnose hepatitis.
      By: Wojciech Sobiech
      Blood tests are often used to diagnose hepatitis.