A CD4+ count is a blood test to see how well the immune system is working in people who have been diagnosed with HIV. CD4+ cells are a type of white blood cell. White blood cells are important in fighting infections. CD4+ cells are also called T-lymphocytes, T-cells, or T-helper cells.
HIV infects CD4+ cells. The number of CD4+ cells helps determine whether other infections (opportunistic infections) may occur. If HIV isn't treated, CD4+ counts generally go down as HIV gets worse. In most cases, a low CD4+ count means you have a weakened immune system and a higher chance of getting opportunistic infections.
Why It Is Done
CD4+ counts are done to:
- Keep track of how the HIV infection is affecting your immune system.
- Help diagnose AIDS. If you don't get treatment, HIV infection can progress to AIDS.
- Check to see if you're at risk for other infections (opportunistic infections).
- Decide whether to start treatment to prevent opportunistic infections, such as medicines to prevent Pneumocystis pneumonia.
How often your CD4+ count is checked depends on your treatment, your health, and your prior CD4+ count results.
How To Prepare
In general, there's nothing you have to do before this test unless your doctor tells you to.
How It Is Done
A health professional uses a needle to take a blood sample, usually from the arm.
How It Feels
When a blood sample is taken, you may feel nothing at all from the needle. Or you might feel a quick sting or pinch.
There is very little chance of having a problem from this test. When a blood sample is taken, a small bruise may form at the site.
In people who have HIV, the CD4+ count almost always goes up with treatment. Low CD4+ counts make infections more likely.
Current as of: September 8, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Peter Shalit MD, PhD - Internal Medicine