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Diagnosis of HIV/AIDS

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. You will be asked about certain risks that make your chances of infection higher. If your doctor suspects you have HIV, you will need tests. You should get tested because you can have the virus without symptoms.

You may need:

  • Rapid testing with a saliva test—Results can be ready within a half hour
  • ELISA or Western blot tests—Blood tests will be able to tell if the immune system has found HIV
  • HIV RNA assay—To detect the HIV itself
  • Tests for other sexually transmitted infections

Blood tests are the only way to confirm a diagnosis. These tests will need to be done even if a rapid test is positive. A diagnosis is needed so you can start getting treated right away.

HIV can progress to AIDS. You may have AIDS if:

  • A type of white blood cell (WBC) called helper T cells drop below a certain level in your blood.
  • Helper T cells are below a certain level than another type of WBC called a lymphocyte.
  • You have certain health problems such as Kaposi sarcoma or pneumocystis pneumonia. These only happen in people who have weaker immune systems.

AIDS diagnosis. UCSF Medical Center website. Available at: Accessed September 17, 2018.

Guide for HIV/AIDS clinical care. National Institute of Health and Human Services website. Available at: Updated April 2014. Accessed September 17, 2018.

Initial evaluation of the patient with HIV. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 17, 2017. Accessed September 17, 2018.

Testing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated July 6, 2016. Accessed September 17, 2018.

Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 10/23/2020