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Hepatitis B Test

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus is commonly passed through sexual contact, sharing needles, and pregnancy (mothers passing the virus to unborn children). Hepatitis B will usually be cleared from the body within 6 months of infection, but individuals with weakened immune systems may experience a chronic infection that can lead to liver scarring and cancer.

The hepatitis B test is a routine blood test that checks the blood for the presence of the HBV virus. This test may be ordered if you are exhibiting signs or symptoms of liver damage. Additionally, an HBV test may be recommended if you are healthy, but at risk of contracting HBV. HBV screening tests are recommended for the following individuals:

  • Pregnant women
  • People who are living with someone who has been infected with HBV
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who have multiple sexual partners
  • People who have been previously diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection
  • People who have been diagnosed with hepatitis C or HIV
  • People who use IV drugs
  • People with liver disease
  • People over the age of 60 with diabetes
  • People who have traveled from countries where hepatitis B is common

The CDC estimates that nearly 1.4 million Americans have been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B. About 3,000 Americans die from the infection every year. If you suspect that you may have been exposed to the HBV virus, contact your health care provider right away.

Symptoms of HBV commonly appear within 1-4 months after infection and may range from mild to severe. These symptoms include:

  • Jaundice (yellowed skin or eyes)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Darkened urine
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting

These symptoms are not necessarily an indication of hepatitis B, but they are common symptoms of a liver condition. If you are experiencing a combination of these symptoms, talk to your health care provider about scheduling an HBV screening test.

If left untreated, HBV can lead to complications such as:

  • Cirrhosis (liver scarring)
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver failure
  • Kidney disease
No special preparation is needed for an HBV test.

Most HBV tests are performed at a primary care office. If your doctor suspects that you may be experiencing symptoms of an HBV or a liver condition, they may order that you take an HPV test to screen your blood for the presence of the hepatitis B virus.

If you are undergoing an HBV test in a primary care clinic, your blood will be drawn for testing. During your appointment, your arm will be wrapped in a band to push blood into the veins of the arm. This makes it easier to insert the needle that will be drawing blood from that area. You may feel a slight pinch as the needle is inserted into your arm, but this sensation should pass within a few seconds. The needle draws blood from a vein in your arm, depositing it into a vial or test tube. Some individuals or tests may require multiple tubes to be filled.

After the needed about of blood has been drawn, the needle will be taken out of your arm and the puncture site will be cleaned and bandaged. The blood will then be sent to a lab for testing and analysis.

You will get your results for most tests in 1-3 business days. Depending on the results of your blood test, your health care provider may request follow-up testing to provide a definitive diagnosis of any health conditions or diseases they may detect.

HBV screens frequently employ three separate tests:

- HBV surface antigen test: This test checks for the presence of HBV in the blood. A positive result means that the virus was detected in your blood, and you are contagious. A negative result means no trace of the virus was detected in the blood and you are not contagious.

- HBV core antigen test: This test also checks for the presence of HBV in the blood. A positive result means that HBV was detected in the blood, where a negative result indicates that no HBV was detected in the blood.

- HBV surface antibody test: This test determines your immunity to HBV. You may be immune due to vaccination, or because you have recovered from an HBV infection and your body has developed the antibodies to fight off the disease. A positive test means that you do exhibit immunity to HBV, where a negative test shows that you are not currently immune to the disease.

Individuals who have been previously diagnosed with a liver condition, or who are dealing with chronic HBV, may require follow-up liver function testing to ensure that these conditions are not damaging the liver. Your doctor may order a gamma-glutamyl transferase test to detect levels of GGT in the blood, a common indicator of liver function.
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