When making a malaria diagnosis, the doctor will usually ask about the patient's medical history, recent travel history, symptoms, and current medications. The doctor will also often perform a physical exam. The test that is typically used to diagnose malaria is called a blood smear. Some medical conditions the healthcare provider will consider before diagnosing malaria include the flu, common cold, meningitis, hepatitis, and yellow fever.
In order to make a malaria diagnosis, the healthcare provider may ask a number of questions concerning:
- Current symptoms
- Medical conditions
- Family medical history
- Current medications
- Recent travel history.
The healthcare provider will also likely perform a physical exam, looking for signs or symptoms of malaria. He or she may also order certain tests to help in diagnosing malaria or another condition.
The doctor may suspect malaria based on the patient's symptoms, and the physical findings at examination; however, to make a definitive diagnosis of malaria, laboratory tests must demonstrate the malaria parasites, or their components.
The best test available to diagnose malaria is called a blood smear. In this test, malaria parasites can be identified by examining a drop of the patient's blood under the microscope, spread out as a "blood smear" on a microscope slide. Prior to examination, the specimen (blood) is stained to give to the parasites a distinctive appearance.
There are other blood tests available that may be used along with a blood smear to confirm a malaria diagnosis.