HIV Complications & Risks

What Are the Complications & Risks of HIV / AIDS?

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Those who suf­fer from HIV, and ulti­mate­ly AIDS (for those who go untreat­ed med­ical­ly), suf­fer from a weak­ened immune sys­tem that opens the door to a wealth of infec­tions. Make no mis­take; left untreat­ed, the ulti­mate out­come for any­one who con­tracts HIV and does not get treat­ed is death, guar­an­teed. There is no cure in exis­tence today. 

It isn’t the virus itself that will ulti­mate­ly kill the vic­tim, but those oth­er infec­tions the patient isn’t able to fight off due to a weak­ened immune sys­tem. Mere­ly the com­mon cold, some­thing that many peo­ple nev­er even know they had until it is gone, can be dev­as­tat­ing­ly lethal. 

Remem­ber, this is the case for the peo­ple who nev­er received med­ical treat­ment. The out­come is far, far dif­fer­ent for those who do! Though we have no cure in exis­tence, the HIV virus can be halt­ed, even dimin­ished, with retro­vi­ral ther­a­py, to the point where it doesn’t bear any neg­a­tive impact at all. 

There are count­less risks asso­ci­at­ed with HIV/AIDS, and it would be impos­si­ble to list them all. The main out­come is a weak to inef­fec­tive immune sys­tem, mean­ing your body has few means to fight off even the most minor of for­eign invaders. 

Some Pos­si­ble Risks

  • Severe­ly weak­ened immune system
  • Increased chance of con­tract­ing oth­er bacterial/​viral infections
  • Increased chance of devel­op­ing fun­gal infec­tions, like life threat­en­ing meningitis
  • Increased risk for devel­op­ing some types of cancer
  • Severe fever, intense headaches and lethargy/​weakness
  • Rash over skin &/or genitals
  • Neu­ro­log­i­cal complications
  • Wast­ing syndrome
  • Chance of pass­ing virus to child/​offspring
  • Decreased life span
  • Death

Symp­toms Include:

  • Weak­ness, fatigue and tired­ness that can’t be explained
  • Dry cough accom­pa­nied by short­ness of breath not from a cold
  • Chills, night sweats, and/​or a fever (can be severe)
  • Weight loss that can’t be explained
  • Unex­plained, per­sis­tent diar­rhea for no known reason

Of those that devel­op AIDS, about half progress from HIV to AIDS with­in 10 years. Keep in mind, anti­retro­vi­ral ther­a­py (ART) can stop the pro­gres­sion of HIV. Today, many HIV suf­fer­ers nev­er even devel­op AIDS at all.

Oppor­tunis­tic Infec­tions: The Main Risk

Oppor­tunis­tic infec­tions are those that the aver­age healthy per­son often isn’t even aware of because their bod­ies sim­ply fought them off. They mean noth­ing to a healthy person.

To a per­son with HIV or AIDS, how­ev­er, oppor­tunis­tic infec­tions can wreak hav­oc. Sim­ply stat­ed, oppor­tunis­tic infec­tions can occur much more often, caus­ing far greater dam­age, in peo­ple with weak­ened immune sys­tems. Thank­ful­ly, oppor­tunis­tic infec­tions are much less com­mon today than the ear­ly days of HIV/AIDS, thanks to vast advances in med­ical treatment.

Most com­mon Oppor­tunis­tic Infec­tions in US

There are sev­er­al com­mon oppor­tunis­tic infec­tions for HIV suf­fer­ers who go untreat­ed, a in depth list­ing pro­vid­ed by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol (CDC). OIs are the lead­ing cause of death for peo­ple with HIV/AIDS today.

  • Though not avail­able until recent years, there are now drugs that can actu­al­ly pre­vent HIV from enter­ing the body’s cells! 

How do I Pre­vent Oppor­tunis­tic Infections?

The best way to pre­vent any infec­tion is through knowl­edge and under­stand­ing. Since oppor­tunis­tic infec­tions are most often found in those that suf­fer from weak­ened immune sys­tems due to things like HIV, tak­ing med­ica­tion and pre­scrib­ing to appro­pri­ate med­ical treat­ment as rec­om­mend­ed can dras­ti­cal­ly decrease the chances peo­ple will devel­op them.

Talk to your health care provider about oppor­tunis­tic infec­tions! On top of prop­er med­ical treat­ment, there are oth­er addi­tion­al avenues.

  • Prac­tice safe sex, pre­vent­ing expo­sure to oth­er sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted infec­tions. diseases. 
  • Know the sex­u­al his­to­ry of any part­ners you may have. 
  • Nev­er share drug injec­tion equip­ment or nee­dles. The com­mon sense solu­tion would be to avoid ille­gal or non-pre­scribed drugs, but that goes with­out saying. 
  • Be sure to stay up to date with vac­ci­na­tions, and dis­cuss those need­ed with your health­care provider. 
  • Under­go reg­u­lar test­ing to ensure you are HIV free (for those that haven’t con­tract­ed HIV). 
  • Avoid untreat­ed water if at all possible. 
  • Avoid under­cooked or raw foods that should be cooked, like eggs and raw milk/​cheeses (for ex.). 
  • Dis­cuss any oth­er pos­si­ble health care/​treatment meth­ods with your physician. 
  • Wash hands often when prepar­ing food. 
  • For under­de­vel­oped coun­tries, make sure you have access to med­ical treatment. 

Ben­e­fits of Anti­retro­vi­ral Ther­a­py for HIV

Anti­retro­vi­ral ther­a­py uti­lizes cer­tain treat­ments to com­bat HIV. Though these med­ica­tions don’t actu­al­ly kill the virus, they do pre­vent it from repli­cat­ing. Due to its nature, HIV needs to grow and make copies of itself inside the human body in order to be effec­tive as a virus. ARV treat­ment pre­vents this from happening. 

If the virus can’t dupli­cate, it can’t con­tin­ue to harm the human body (or rather the immune sys­tem). HIV patients who seek this treat­ment can remain com­plete­ly healthy. Believe it or not, ART can help keep viral load so low it’s all but impos­si­ble to pass on to others!

Impor­tance of Ear­ly Treatment

The ear­li­er a per­son infect­ed with the HIV virus seeks med­ical atten­tion, the bet­ter their health care options. Ide­al­ly, a vic­tim will dis­cov­er he has HIV dur­ing the first few months before their viral load is too high, increas­ing the chance it can be low­ered, kep low, and increas­ing the effec­tive­ness of ART.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, those that ignore ear­ly signs of acute infec­tion and don’t get test­ed can go through an asymp­to­matic peri­od where they have no idea any­thing is wrong at all. All the while, the virus con­tin­ues to repli­cate inside them, eas­i­ly passed on to oth­er unsus­pect­ing sex­u­al part­ners. They may not know some­thing is wrong until they devel­op end stage HIV- AIDS, and med­ical treat­ment is no longer as help­ful as it could have been.

Con­clu­sion: Qual­i­ty of Life

For those who do con­tract HIV, ear­ly detec­tion is the best alter­na­tive lead­ing to opti­mal qual­i­ty of life and the best pos­si­ble treat­ment options! Thank­ful­ly, as years progress and med­ical treat­ment improves, we devel­op test­ing meth­ods (like HIV RNA test­ing) that can detect HIV in the human body ear­li­er and earlier!

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