Receiving an HIV diagnosis can be confusing, overwhelming and scary. However, learning more about the condition and how to take care of yourself, can make it more manageable.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is a virus that attacks specific immune cells in the body, called T-cells. T-cells help to protect us from disease and fight infection. When these cells are attacked, the immune system is weakened, and a person is more likely to get an illness or infection. If HIV is left untreated, even minor illnesses, like the common cold, may become much more serious.
HIV is spread through contact with certain bodily fluids, including blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk. It’s most commonly spread through unprotected sex or the sharing of drug injection needles. The only way to know someone has HIV is to get tested. HIV testing is widely accessible in various health care settings. If preferred, home HIV tests are available as well.
Although there is currently no cure, people with HIV can lead long and healthy lives by practicing healthy behaviors and following their treatment plan.How HIV Affects the Body
1. Brain/Nervous System: HIV can cause injury to the brain and nervous system resulting in memory loss, lowered cognitive function, anxiety and depression. Nerve damage can also occur, which may cause pain, weakness and difficulty walking.
2. Mouth/Throat: Thrush, a fungal infection common in those with HIV, causes a white film to build up on the tongue, inner cheeks and throat. Thrush can also cause inflammation of the tongue and throat, making eating painful. Mouth sores are also common for those with HIV
3. Skin: HIV puts a person at a higher risk for skin infections, rashes and bumpy skin (called “molluscum contagiosum”). Shingles, skin disorders (eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, scabies, skin cancer) and mouth and/or genital sores caused by the herpes virus are also more common.
4. Lungs: The lungs can be greatly affected by HIV due to the increased risk of colds, flu and pneumonia. When the lungs are affected, individuals may have trouble breathing, chest pain and a chronic cough. Tuberculosis (TB), a bacterial infection of the lungs, is a serious health threat in people with AIDS.
5. Heart: Over time, the heart can become strained due to pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries supplying blood to the lungs.
6. Immune System: Because HIV attacks the immune system, several changes take place. After first being infected by the virus, the immune system launches an “immune response”, the body’s way of recognizing and defending itself against germs. This can cause a person to suffer from flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, cough, etc.), swollen glands and fatigue. As HIV continues to damage T-cells and weaken the immune system, opportunistic infections, illnesses that take advantage of a reduced immune system, become more common.
7. Kidneys: Kidney inflammation, caused by HIV-associated nephropathy (HIVAN), can make it more difficult for the kidneys to remove waste from blood stream.
8. GI Tract: Having HIV can make a person much more likely to get a foodborne illness, which can cause diarrhea, stomach pain and vomiting. Even without a foodborne illness, diarrhea is a common side effect of HIV.
9. Adipose (Fat) Tissue: Changes to where your body stores fat, or lipodystrophy, is common in those with HIV, especially those who are taking or have taken older HIV medications. Men tend to lose fat in the arms, legs, face and buttocks. Women, on the other hand, tend to gain fat in the abdomen, breasts and back of the neck or shoulders.
To better understand this disease, your symptoms, and how nutrition is affected, see the table below for more details.