Hepatitis B and C: Should I Be Tested?

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Decision Point

Hepatitis B and C: Should I Be Tested?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Hepatitis B and C: Should I Be Tested?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Have a blood test for hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
  • Do not have the test.

Key points to remember

  • Hepatitis often causes no symptoms, so many people don't know that they have it until they get tested.
  • If you get tested and find out that you have hepatitis, you could face a hard decision about treatment. Treatment for hepatitis C may have serious side effects during the 6 to 12 months or longer that you take it. And it doesn't always work. It also costs a lot if you don't have insurance or if your insurance doesn't cover all of the costs.
  • People with hepatitis B or C may not need treatment if the disease hasn't caused any liver problems. But both types can cause serious liver problems, such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure. Treatment may prevent liver problems in some people.
  • Some people get hepatitis B or C even though they never used illegal drugs or never had more than one sex partner.
  • You can get shots to keep from getting hepatitis A or B, but no shot is available to prevent hepatitis C.
  • If you know that you have hepatitis, you can take steps to keep from spreading it to others.
  • Having to tell friends and family that you have hepatitis could affect your relationships.
  • If you test positive, you could have trouble getting health insurance.
FAQs

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B and C are spread through infected blood and body fluids. Hepatitis B is spread most often during sexual contact and when people share needles to inject drugs.

Hepatitis C also is spread through shared needles. Both types can be spread when an infected person shares items such as razors or toothbrushes.

Sometimes a baby is infected at birth because the mother has hepatitis.

Less common causes include:

  • Getting a tattoo or body piercing with a needle that was not sterile.
  • Getting an accidental needle stick from a dirty needle.
  • Having received a blood transfusion before 1992 (hepatitis C).

Many people get hepatitis without knowing how they got it. And many people have hepatitis for years without knowing it, because they have no symptoms.

Both hepatitis B and C can cause serious liver problems, such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure. But some people never have serious problems.

Most adults who get hepatitis B have it for a short time and then get better on their own.

Most people who get hepatitis C will have a long-term infection that may never go away, even with treatment.

What is the test for hepatitis?

You can have a blood test to find out if you have hepatitis B or hepatitis C. A small amount of blood is drawn from your arm. The blood is sent to a lab.

The test looks for hepatitis antibodies. Having these antibodies means that you have been exposed to hepatitis, but it does not mean that you now have an active infection.

If the test shows that you have been exposed to hepatitis B or C, your blood may be tested again to see if the virus is still in your blood. The second test shows whether you have an active hepatitis infection. For the second test, the lab may use some of the blood that was already drawn, or you may need to have more blood drawn.

What are the benefits of getting tested?

  • Getting tested can lead to early treatment, which may help prevent a long-term infection.
  • If you know that you have hepatitis, you may decide to tell people who may have given you the disease, so that they can get tested. People you may have infected also could be tested.
  • If you know that you have the infection, you can take steps to avoid spreading it.
  • If your test shows that you don't have hepatitis B, you can get a vaccine to keep you from ever getting it. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

What are the risks of getting tested?

If you find out that you have hepatitis B or C, you have to decide whether to get treatment.

  • A new hepatitis B infection in adults usually does not need to be treated. It usually goes away on its own. But in some people it leads to long-term (chronic) infection and serious liver problems.
  • Some of the medicines used to treat hepatitis B have few or no side effects. But others can cause serious side effects, such as constant tiredness, headaches, a fever, nausea, thyroid problems, or depression.
  • The medicines used to treat hepatitis C can cause serious side effects during the 6 to 12 months or longer that you take them. Side effects can include constant tiredness, headaches, a fever, nausea, thyroid problems, or depression. Some people stop treatment because the medicine makes them too ill. And the treatment doesn't always work.

Why might your doctor recommend that you get tested?

Your doctor might advise you to get tested for hepatitis B or C if:

  • Your job or your lifestyle puts you at risk for getting hepatitis. For example:
    • You work with body fluids.
    • You have sex without using a condom with more than one partner.
    • You share needles to inject drugs.
    • You have snorted (inhaled) cocaine.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Get tested for hepatitis Get tested for hepatitis
  • You have one or two blood tests.
  • If tests show that you have hepatitis B or C, you may have other tests to see if you have any liver damage.
  • You can be treated early, which can prevent a long-lasting infection and liver damage.
  • You can take steps to avoid spreading the disease to others.
  • You can tell others so that they can decide whether to be tested.
  • If you don't have hepatitis B, you may decide to get the hepatitis B vaccine to keep you from ever getting it. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
  • Getting tested may give you peace of mind.
  • You have to decide whether to have treatment, which can have serious side effects.
  • Telling people that you have hepatitis may be hard for you and can affect your relationships.
  • If you have hepatitis, you could have trouble getting health insurance.
Don't get tested for hepatitis Don't get tested for hepatitis
  • You can take steps to avoid getting or spreading hepatitis.
  • You can wait and see if you get symptoms before you decide to be tested. But some people who have hepatitis don't get symptoms.
  • You won't have to decide whether to have treatment.
  • You won't have to decide whether to tell other people that you have hepatitis.
  • You won't worry that test results could keep you from getting health insurance.
  • You might not find out that you have hepatitis early enough to get treatment that could slow or stop the infection.
  • You won't be able to tell other people that they are at risk and might want to get tested.
  • You won't know for sure whether you could give hepatitis to others.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about hepatitis testing

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I have been sexually active for years and have had at least a dozen sex partners. I'm going to have a hepatitis test. I have a friend who went through treatment a year or so ago. He was pretty miserable, but he came out all right. If he can do it, I can. I think I owe it to myself to find out if I have hepatitis.

Jax, age 40

I had several sex partners when I was in my 20s, but I don't consider myself promiscuous. I worry that I could have hepatitis, but the treatment sounds very unpleasant and might not even work. I think the odds are in my favor that I don't have hepatitis, so I'm not going to be tested.

Karen, age 33

I did drugs in my teens and shared needles a couple of times. I also got a tattoo in Tijuana over spring break one year. I just recently read an article about hepatitis C, and I think I'll get tested. I don't want to deal with the treatment decision right now, but I want to know if I have it.

Malik, age 29

I lived with a woman who had hepatitis C, and I watched her go through the treatment. She had a rough time of it for a year. I don't think I could handle feeling that sick for so long. So I'm not going to be tested, because I don't think I would go through the treatment even if it turned out I have hepatitis.

Sam, age 44

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to get tested for hepatitis

Reasons not to get tested for hepatitis

If I tested positive, I would be willing to deal with the side effects of treatment.

I wouldn't be willing to put myself through the side effects of treatment.

More important
Equally important
More important

If I tested positive, I would want to tell people I might have given it to, so they could get tested.

I wouldn't want to tell people, because I'm worried that it would hurt my relationships.

More important
Equally important
More important

I want to know for sure if I need to use condoms and take other steps so that I don't spread hepatitis.

I'm already careful. I use condoms every time I have sex.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm more worried about having hepatitis than I am about not getting health insurance.

I'm more worried that I might not be able to get private health insurance than I am about having hepatitis.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Getting tested

NOT getting tested

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

If I get hepatitis, I need treatment to get better.

  • TrueSorry, that's not right. People with hepatitis B or C may not need treatment if the disease hasn't caused any liver problems. But treatment may keep long-term hepatitis B or C infection from causing serious liver problems.
  • FalseYou're right. People with hepatitis B or C may not need treatment if the disease hasn't caused any liver problems. But treatment may keep long-term hepatitis B or C infection from causing serious liver problems.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." People with hepatitis B or C may not need treatment if the disease hasn't caused any liver problems. But treatment may prevent serious liver problems.
2.

I might never know that I have hepatitis if I don't get tested.

  • TrueYou're right. Hepatitis often causes no symptoms, so many people don't know that they have it until they get tested.
  • FalseSorry, that's not correct. Hepatitis often causes no symptoms, so many people don't know that they have it until they get tested.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Hepatitis often causes no symptoms, so many people don't know that they have it until they get tested.
3.

My getting tested might help other people.

  • TrueThat's right. If you have hepatitis, you can take steps so that you don't give it to others.
  • FalseSorry, that's not right. If you know that you have hepatitis, you can take steps so that you don't give it to others.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." If you know that you have hepatitis, you can take steps so that you don't give it to others.

Decide what's next

1.

Do you understand the options available to you?

2.

Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.

Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision 

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts 

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act 

Patient choices

Credits

Credits
CreditsHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerW. Thomas London, MD - Hepatology
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Hepatitis B and C: Should I Be Tested?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the facts

Your options

  • Have a blood test for hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
  • Do not have the test.

Key points to remember

  • Hepatitis often causes no symptoms, so many people don't know that they have it until they get tested.
  • If you get tested and find out that you have hepatitis, you could face a hard decision about treatment. Treatment for hepatitis C may have serious side effects during the 6 to 12 months or longer that you take it. And it doesn't always work. It also costs a lot if you don't have insurance or if your insurance doesn't cover all of the costs.
  • People with hepatitis B or C may not need treatment if the disease hasn't caused any liver problems. But both types can cause serious liver problems, such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure. Treatment may prevent liver problems in some people.
  • Some people get hepatitis B or C even though they never used illegal drugs or never had more than one sex partner.
  • You can get shots to keep from getting hepatitis A or B, but no shot is available to prevent hepatitis C.
  • If you know that you have hepatitis, you can take steps to keep from spreading it to others.
  • Having to tell friends and family that you have hepatitis could affect your relationships.
  • If you test positive, you could have trouble getting health insurance.
FAQs

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B and C are spread through infected blood and body fluids. Hepatitis B is spread most often during sexual contact and when people share needles to inject drugs.

Hepatitis C also is spread through shared needles. Both types can be spread when an infected person shares items such as razors or toothbrushes.

Sometimes a baby is infected at birth because the mother has hepatitis.

Less common causes include:

  • Getting a tattoo or body piercing with a needle that was not sterile.
  • Getting an accidental needle stick from a dirty needle.
  • Having received a blood transfusion before 1992 (hepatitis C).

Many people get hepatitis without knowing how they got it. And many people have hepatitis for years without knowing it, because they have no symptoms.

Both hepatitis B and C can cause serious liver problems, such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure. But some people never have serious problems.

Most adults who get hepatitis B have it for a short time and then get better on their own.

Most people who get hepatitis C will have a long-term infection that may never go away, even with treatment.

What is the test for hepatitis?

You can have a blood test to find out if you have hepatitis B or hepatitis C. A small amount of blood is drawn from your arm. The blood is sent to a lab.

The test looks for hepatitis antibodies. Having these antibodies means that you have been exposed to hepatitis, but it does not mean that you now have an active infection.

If the test shows that you have been exposed to hepatitis B or C, your blood may be tested again to see if the virus is still in your blood. The second test shows whether you have an active hepatitis infection. For the second test, the lab may use some of the blood that was already drawn, or you may need to have more blood drawn.

What are the benefits of getting tested?

  • Getting tested can lead to early treatment, which may help prevent a long-term infection.
  • If you know that you have hepatitis, you may decide to tell people who may have given you the disease, so that they can get tested. People you may have infected also could be tested.
  • If you know that you have the infection, you can take steps to avoid spreading it.
  • If your test shows that you don't have hepatitis B, you can get a vaccine to keep you from ever getting it. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

What are the risks of getting tested?

If you find out that you have hepatitis B or C, you have to decide whether to get treatment.

  • A new hepatitis B infection in adults usually does not need to be treated. It usually goes away on its own. But in some people it leads to long-term (chronic) infection and serious liver problems.
  • Some of the medicines used to treat hepatitis B have few or no side effects. But others can cause serious side effects, such as constant tiredness, headaches, a fever, nausea, thyroid problems, or depression.
  • The medicines used to treat hepatitis C can cause serious side effects during the 6 to 12 months or longer that you take them. Side effects can include constant tiredness, headaches, a fever, nausea, thyroid problems, or depression. Some people stop treatment because the medicine makes them too ill. And the treatment doesn't always work.

Why might your doctor recommend that you get tested?

Your doctor might advise you to get tested for hepatitis B or C if:

  • Your job or your lifestyle puts you at risk for getting hepatitis. For example:
    • You work with body fluids.
    • You have sex without using a condom with more than one partner.
    • You share needles to inject drugs.
    • You have snorted (inhaled) cocaine.

2. Compare your options

  Get tested for hepatitis Don't get tested for hepatitis
What is usually involved?
  • You have one or two blood tests.
  • If tests show that you have hepatitis B or C, you may have other tests to see if you have any liver damage.
  • You can take steps to avoid getting or spreading hepatitis.
  • You can wait and see if you get symptoms before you decide to be tested. But some people who have hepatitis don't get symptoms.
What are the benefits?
  • You can be treated early, which can prevent a long-lasting infection and liver damage.
  • You can take steps to avoid spreading the disease to others.
  • You can tell others so that they can decide whether to be tested.
  • If you don't have hepatitis B, you may decide to get the hepatitis B vaccine to keep you from ever getting it. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
  • Getting tested may give you peace of mind.
  • You won't have to decide whether to have treatment.
  • You won't have to decide whether to tell other people that you have hepatitis.
  • You won't worry that test results could keep you from getting health insurance.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • You have to decide whether to have treatment, which can have serious side effects.
  • Telling people that you have hepatitis may be hard for you and can affect your relationships.
  • If you have hepatitis, you could have trouble getting health insurance.
  • You might not find out that you have hepatitis early enough to get treatment that could slow or stop the infection.
  • You won't be able to tell other people that they are at risk and might want to get tested.
  • You won't know for sure whether you could give hepatitis to others.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about hepatitis testing

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I have been sexually active for years and have had at least a dozen sex partners. I'm going to have a hepatitis test. I have a friend who went through treatment a year or so ago. He was pretty miserable, but he came out all right. If he can do it, I can. I think I owe it to myself to find out if I have hepatitis."

— Jax, age 40

"I had several sex partners when I was in my 20s, but I don't consider myself promiscuous. I worry that I could have hepatitis, but the treatment sounds very unpleasant and might not even work. I think the odds are in my favor that I don't have hepatitis, so I'm not going to be tested."

— Karen, age 33

"I did drugs in my teens and shared needles a couple of times. I also got a tattoo in Tijuana over spring break one year. I just recently read an article about hepatitis C, and I think I'll get tested. I don't want to deal with the treatment decision right now, but I want to know if I have it."

— Malik, age 29

"I lived with a woman who had hepatitis C, and I watched her go through the treatment. She had a rough time of it for a year. I don't think I could handle feeling that sick for so long. So I'm not going to be tested, because I don't think I would go through the treatment even if it turned out I have hepatitis."

— Sam, age 44

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to get tested for hepatitis

Reasons not to get tested for hepatitis

If I tested positive, I would be willing to deal with the side effects of treatment.

I wouldn't be willing to put myself through the side effects of treatment.

More important
Equally important
More important

If I tested positive, I would want to tell people I might have given it to, so they could get tested.

I wouldn't want to tell people, because I'm worried that it would hurt my relationships.

More important
Equally important
More important

I want to know for sure if I need to use condoms and take other steps so that I don't spread hepatitis.

I'm already careful. I use condoms every time I have sex.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm more worried about having hepatitis than I am about not getting health insurance.

I'm more worried that I might not be able to get private health insurance than I am about having hepatitis.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Getting tested

NOT getting tested

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. If I get hepatitis, I need treatment to get better.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
You're right. People with hepatitis B or C may not need treatment if the disease hasn't caused any liver problems. But treatment may keep long-term hepatitis B or C infection from causing serious liver problems.

2. I might never know that I have hepatitis if I don't get tested.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
You're right. Hepatitis often causes no symptoms, so many people don't know that they have it until they get tested.

3. My getting tested might help other people.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. If you have hepatitis, you can take steps so that you don't give it to others.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Credits
ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerW. Thomas London, MD - Hepatology

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