HIV Complications & Risks

What Are the Complications & Risks of HIV / AIDS?

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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