Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV AIDS)

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at January 13, 2016
StartDiseasesAcquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV AIDS)

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) does not cause any specific disease, but weakens the body’s immune system causing acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Once the body’s immune system has been weakened, it has no defense against illnesses such as tuberculosis and flu.

Contents

Definition & Facts

More than 20 million people globally contract HIV each year. Although there is no known cure for HIV/AIDS, various treatment options can help slow down the progression of the disease and treat the symptoms that occur with the infection. Unfortunately, many people, especially in developing countries, are unable to afford the treatments or may not be tested and diagnosed in time to treat the disease.

Symptoms & Complaints

HIV infection can often be asymptomatic in its early stages and not easy to recognize. This makes HIV transmission more likely because unaware patients are less likely to take precautions that prevent its spread.

Some of the first symptoms of HIV/AIDS include flu-like symptoms such as aches, fevers, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and skin rashes. These symptoms are easy to ignore because they can be related to common cold or flu.

The third stage symptoms of HIV infection occur just before it becomes full-blown AIDS. The patient will experience flu-like symptoms, weight loss, skin infections, difficulty breathing, and loss of appetite. These symptoms occur when the patient’s immune system becomes unable to repel simple illnesses that a normal immune system would successfully repel.

Causes

AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus and is a sexually transmitted disease. The most common cause of HIV is through sexual transmission of bodily fluids from an infected person. The riskiest sexual activity for transmitting HIV is through anal sex followed by vaginal sex. HIV can be sexually transmitted between men, from a man to a woman and vice versa. It is rare though possible to spread HIV during sex between two women.

HIV can also be spread through contact with an infected person’s blood. This is one of the most common causes of HIV, especially in poor countries where there is no screening of blood donors or blood donations. However, it can also occur when infected blood comes in contact with an exposed opening on the skin such as a wound or cut.

Sharing needles, especially during intravenous drug use can lead to HIV infections. Pregnant women with HIV can transmit the virus to their babies during childbirth and through breastfeeding.

Diagnosis & Tests

Enzyme immunoassay is the most common blood test for HIV. This test uses blood taken from an individual’s vein and relies on the fact that HIV infection causes the body to release antibodies to fight the virus. It takes between 25 days and six months for the body to release enough levels of antibodies that can be detected by the test.

People should not consider being tested for HIV less than a month after a possible contraction because they are likely to get a false negative result from the test. In addition, people should consider going for a second test six months after their first test. Many HIV tests take several days to return results. However, quick tests can also return accurate results. People can test for HIV using home test kits.

Treatment & Therapy

There is no known cure for HIV/AIDS. However, certain medications can help slow down the progression of the disease and make the patient feel more comfortable. The lifespan of patients with HIV/AIDS can be prolonged significantly if they receive antiretroviral drugs (ARV). Although these medications do not cure HIV/AIDS, they can slow down its progress.

One of the most common treatment regimens for HIV patients is known as combination therapy or antiretroviral therapy (ART), which involves taking more than one antiretroviral at a time. Patients who respond well to treatment live much longer than those who receive no treatment.

The lifespan of patients with HIV is significantly reduced once they start contracting opportunistic infections such as pneumonia, toxoplasmosis, and tuberculosis. Once HIV causes AIDS, the body will no longer have enough immune cells to fight off the opportunistic infections.

Patients in their 20’s and 30’s have better chances of fighting opportunistic infections than patients in their 60’s. Eating a healthy diet, exercise, and avoiding substances such as alcohol and tobacco can help keep the body healthier so that it can effectively fight off opportunistic infections.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

An important HIV/AIDS prevention measure is to avoid stereotypes because anyone can be infected by HIV from gay people to heterosexuals. In addition, it is important for people to be tested so that they can know their own status. New sexual partners should talk frankly to each other about their risk factors and request total disclosure from each other.

People who are sexually active should practice safe sex always. This involves using condoms for anal, vaginal, or oral penetrations. Lesbians may use dental dams and thin latex squares for oral sex.

Doctors and medical practitioners who often come in contact with other people’s blood can protect themselves by wearing protective gear regardless of the patient’s HIV status. Drug users should avoid sharing intravenous needles or stop using drugs altogether. Some states and pharmacies allow people to buy certain types of syringes without a prescription.