To diagnose malaria, your doctor will likely review your medical history, conduct a physical exam and order blood tests. Blood tests are the only way to confirm a malaria diagnosis. Certain blood tests can help your doctor by showing:
- The presence of the parasite in the blood, to confirm that you have malaria
- Which type of malaria parasite is causing your symptoms
- If your infection is caused by a parasite resistant to certain drugs
Other blood tests help determine whether the disease is causing any serious complications.
Some blood tests can take several days to complete, while others can produce results in less than 15 minutes.
Malaria is treated with prescription drugs to kill the parasite. The types of drugs and the length of treatment will vary, depending on:
- Which type of malaria parasite you have
- The severity of your symptoms
- Your age
- Whether you're pregnant
The most common antimalarial drugs include:
- Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs). ACTs are, in many cases, the first line treatment for malaria. There are several different types of ACTs. Examples include artemether-lumefantrine (Coartem) and artesunate-amodiaquine. Each ACT is a combination of two or more drugs that work against the malaria parasite in different ways.
- Chloroquine phosphate. Chloroquine is the preferred treatment for any parasite that is sensitive to the drug. But in many parts of the world, the parasites that cause malaria are resistant to chloroquine, and the drug is no longer an effective treatment.
Other common antimalarial drugs include:
- Combination of atovaquone and proguanil (Malarone)
- Quinine sulfate (Qualaquin) with doxycycline (Vibramycin, Monodox, others)
- Primaquine phosphate
Possible future treatments
New antimalarial drugs are being researched and developed. Malaria treatment is marked by a constant struggle between evolving drug-resistant parasites and the search for new drug formulations. For example, one variety of the malaria parasite has demonstrated resistance to nearly all of the available antimalarial drugs.
Preparing for your appointment
If you suspect you have malaria or that you've been exposed, you're likely to start by seeing your family doctor. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred to an infectious disease specialist. If you have severe symptoms — especially during or after travel in an area where malaria is common — seek emergency medical attention.
What you can do
Before your appointment, you might want to write a list that answers the following questions:
- What are your symptoms, and when did they start?
- Have you recently traveled to or moved from a region in which malaria is common?
- Have you ever had malaria before?
- What types of medications and supplements do you take?
What to expect from your doctor
During the physical exam, your doctor may review your medical history, listen to your breathing, check your spleen and neurological functions, and look for other causes of a fever.