Healthy Living

How Is AIDS Diagnosed?

How Is AIDS Diagnosed?

Key Takeaways

  • The process of HIV testing involves two steps.
  • The first thing doctors do in the screening test is to look for antibodies that fight against the HIV virus.
  • Sometimes, regular screening tests can be inaccurate, so doctors use the Western blot test to provide more information and determine if someone has AIDS.

How Doctors Diagnose AIDS

When doctors diagnose AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), the doctors need to run some tests. If the test comes out to be "positive" and there is a low CD4 cell count, then a person is considered to have AIDS. The process of HIV testing involves two steps. There is a screening test and a confirmatory test. The first thing doctors do in the screening test is to look for antibodies that fight against the HIV virus. Doctors extract the antibodies from the following ways: 

  • finger stick 
  • urine sample 
  • oral swab 

The results usually come back within a couple of minutes because of the new rapid testing. The results may also take a couple of days if rapid testing is not used. Regardless of how long it takes, if the results are positive, it is confirmed through special tests such as indirect immunofluorescence assay and the Western blot technique. Western blot detects antibodies to specific parts of the HIV virus and acts as a double check to the screening test. Sometimes, regular screening tests can be inaccurate, so doctors use the Western blot test to provide more information and determine if someone has AIDS. Another way for doctors to diagnose AIDS is doing a special test to detect viral particles in the blood. However, such method is only utilized to determine what kind of treatment should be used rather than coming up with the diagnosis. 

If I have HIV, do I have AIDS? 

The short answer is no. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a virus that can eventually lead to AIDS, which is the last stage of an HIV infection. Keep in mind that no one can get AIDS if they do not have HIV. A big factor in determining if someone has AIDS is when their CD4 cell count is lower than 200 cells per cubic milliliter of blood. It is also possible that your doctor will request for other laboratory tests to check for other infections.  

If you do test positive

The good news is that there is still hope, but the bad news is that there is still no cure for an HIV infection or AIDS. With the right treatment and proper care, it is possible to control an HIV infection with medications to prevent it from developing into AIDS. If you do test positive, remember that you are not alone, there are 1.2 million people in the United States alone who are living with HIV. It is really important that you still make healthy choices to stay healthy. Living with HIV is a not a way to label someone. If you have HIV, it is important that you start medical care and treatment right away. Treatment through medications is the most common and recommended way for all people with HIV. The treatment is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. Another thing to keep in mind is, to be honest with your sex partners and those around you. Letting other people know, especially the people around you is vital to help keep everyone healthy.  

Additional Diagnostic Tests

The most common and first few ways of diagnosing AIDS have been discussed. Let us now throw light on some of the alternate tests that are done to confirm AIDS. Most of the time, a series of tests is performed on the patient. The reason is that the doctor has to be sure of the condition before starting the treatment. Moreover, it is done in two steps. While step one focuses on confirming if the patient is indeed HIV-positive, the second step acts as a confirmatory testing for the disease. Owing to the advances in science, it is now possible to accurately confirm or rule out the virus. Different tests are administered for different patients.

  • ELISA test: ELISA or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test is the most common test that is used to diagnose an HIV infection. Once this test comes out positive, the next step is to do a Western blot test. However, in cases where the test proves to be negative, a repeat test is normally advised to the patient after a span of three months.
  • Western blot test: As discussed, this test is a sensitive one that is used to confirm the infection after an ELISA test has given a positive result.
  • Home Access Express HIV-1 Test System: This is the only test that has been approved to try at home. It is easily available at over-the-counter pharmacies and is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
  • Viral load test: This is a test used to detect the quantity of HIV in a person’s blood. The result is confirmed after finding out the changes in the DNA sequences. It can easily detect even an early HIV infection.

All of the above tests may not work for all patients. The doctor must test and see which test produces optimal results. Depending on the result of the test, a repeat test is suggested at times. During other times, additional confirmatory tests are administered just to be doubly sure of the condition. Following the diagnosis, the treatment is started immediately. A combination of more than one therapy is used to treat the patient or control the symptoms, which may include a stress-free lifestyle, health monitoring, medical therapy, counseling sessions, support groups or forums, and an extra aid as and when needed by the patient and his family. AIDS is a life-threatening disease. Any delay in identifying the cause, problem, or treatment method could cause the condition to worsen. Thus, proper medical advice should be taken and followed at all times. However, due to the stigma surrounding AIDS, people are weary of going to the doctor, which is not advised. Seek medical advice if you feel you have any of the symptoms.

The Bottom Line

Being tested for HIV is a life-changing event and can lead to a lot of negative emotions. The truth is that there is still hope and it is not the end. So make sure to talk with your doctor and make sure that everything is being done to control the virus. Moreover, there is support for those people with HIV through health care and social service providers. It is best to always talk with your doctor or others who have the same condition, so you can openly express your thoughts and feelings about your condition.