Genito-Urinary Medicine


Introduction to HIV or AIDS

HIV is a condition where a virus causes damage to your immune system.

Written by Doctify Team 27/04/2020

What is HIV or AIDS?

HIV is a condition where a virus causes damage to your immune system. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, the virus damages the cells involved in fighting bacteria, so your ability to combat infections is reduced. HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids; it is usually passed between people through unprotected sex or sharing needles. It can also be passed on from mother to child during pregnancy, birth and through breastfeeding. It is estimated that 1 in every 360 people in the UK has HIV; the two groups with highest rates are gay and bisexual men and Black African heterosexuals. About 17% of people with HIV do not know they have the condition.

There is no cure for HIV but there are many treatments that help people with HIV to live a mostly unrestricted life. AIDS is the last stage of the HIV virus and is only diagnosed when people can’t fight off life-threatening infections. Most people who are diagnosed with HIV will not go on to develop AIDS.

What causes HIV or AIDS?

HIV is caused by the HIV virus. The virus kills special white blood cells called CD4 cells, which play a major role in the immune system. Without these cells the bodies’ ability to fight off infections is greatly reduced. The process of destroying these cells can take up to ten years; in this time you won’t experience many obvious symptoms.

What are the symptoms of HIV or AIDS?

Most people with HIV will experience flu-like symptoms around 2-6 weeks after they are infected with the virus; this is called the seroconversion period. During this time people may experience fever, a sore throat, a body rash, tiredness, joint pain, muscle pain and swollen glands. After this HIV will not cause symptoms for several years.

When the HIV infection is not causing obvious symptoms, it is slowly damaging the immune system. However people with the virus may notice weight loss, diarrhoea, night sweats and recurrent infections.

How is HIV or AIDS treated?

With good adherence to treatment, the life expectancy of someone with HIV is the same as someone without the infection. HIV is treated with antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. These work by stopping the virus multiplying in the body, which prevents further damage to the immune system. Patients tend to take a combination of ARV drugs as the HIV virus can adapt and become resistant. There are common side effects with these medications such as nausea, diarrhoea, rashes and insomnia. A specialist doctor in sexual health medicine will be able to further advise you on this condition and the treatments for it.

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