Testing for Hep B

Many people with hepatitis B have no signs of illness and do not realise they have the virus in their body. Hepatitis B is diagnosed through various blood tests, which look for markers of the hepatitis B virus in the blood.

To understand the tests, it is important to understand two basic medical terms:

  • antigen—a foreign substance in the body, such as the hepatitis B virus; and
  • antibody—a protein that the immune system makes in responses to a foreign substance. Antibodies can be produced in response to a vaccine or a natural infection.
Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 2.24.15 PM.png

For example:

  • Liver Function Tests (LFTs): are a group of blood tests that show how well your liver is working. One important test is the Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT). The ALT is released from liver cells into the bloodstream when the liver is injured. An ALT level above normal may indicate liver damage. ALT levels are included in the regular monitoring of all chronic hepatitis B patients; this test can also be useful in deciding whether a patient would benefit from treatment, or for evaluating how well a current treatment is working;
  • liver biopsy: involves the removal of a small piece of tissue from the liver using a fine needle. The tissue is examined under a microscope to look for inflammation or liver damage; and
  • alpha-fetoprotein: is a blood test which can sometimes detect liver cancer

Page Updated: 05 Feb 2013