Diagnosing and treating malaria
How is malaria diagnosed?
However mild or severe your symptoms, all cases of malaria are best diagnosed and treated by a medical doctor or infectious diseases specialist.
Your doctor will want to determine the following during the initial consultation:
- Have you recently travelled to a high-risk area (often a remote location)?
- Your age and immune status
- Are you pregnant?
- Do you have any allergies or medical conditions?
- Are you currently taking any medications or supplements?
Once your overall health status is assessed and your medical history reviewed, your doctor will perform a physical exam. One of the main flags your doctor will be checking for is whether or not you may have an enlarged liver or spleen. Your doctor will also assess your neurological functions during the physical exam.
To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor will recommend blood tests. These tests will be used to determine:
- Whether or not you have a malarial infection
- The type of parasite involved
- Whether your infection is caused by known parasite which may be resistant to any medications currently being used
- Whether or not the infection has resulted in anaemia
- Whether or not the infection has caused any damage to any of your vital organs
A doctor will assess your blood culture, platelet count, haemoglobin concentration, electrolyte concentrations (especially sodium), and your liver and kidney function.
Although malaria can become life-threating, it can be effectively treated. Hospital care is necessary. Your doctor will need to monitor your treatment and keep an eye on the development of any potential complications.
Once determined through your blood tests, your doctor will treat your symptoms based on the type of parasite found to be causing your infection. In some cases, more than one kind of medication may be necessary to treat malaria due to the nature of the parasite and whether or not it is showing resistance. Sometimes, medications may be switched during treatment as well, for the same reason.
Medication types and length of treatment varies according to:
- The type of parasite causing the malarial infection
- A person’s age
- The nature of a person’s symptoms (mild or severe)
- If a woman is pregnant