HIV/AIDS: Symptoms, Cure, Causes and More

Dr. Sneha Ganatra
November 20, 2020

Human immunodeficiency virus, which is the HIV full form, is a viral infection that affects humans and causes the deterioration of the immune system. As a result, the immune system is suppressed, and this leads to other health problems known as opportunistic infections. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, which is the AIDS full form, is a condition that develops as a result of late-stage HIV infection. A common misconception is that HIV AIDS is a disease by itself when in fact, HIV is the virus that when left untreated, can result in AIDS.

As HIV is an extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening infection to have, it is important to stay well informed about it. Moreover, with no HIV cure available, your best bet is prevention and to do that effectively, you need accurate information to work with. To help with that, here’s all you need to know about the HIV infection and the AIDS condition.

HIV causes

HIV is caused by a virus and can be transmitted from person to person in various ways like any other virus. Typically, HIV is transmitted via bodily fluids and there must be enough of the virus in the fluid to infect the other person. Some of the ways to get infected with HIV is by coming in contact with infected:

  • Blood
  • Vaginal secretions
  • Semen
  • Breast milk
  • Anal fluids
  • Medical equipment
  • Drug equipment

Blood transfusions do not pose an extremely high risk as modern facilities effectively screen all parts of the process to avoid any such infection. However, this may not always be the case, especially in underdeveloped countries.

HIV symptoms

As HIV negatively affects the immune system, the main symptoms with this infection are those that are caused by other illnesses. Since the body’s immune system can’t defend itself well enough, these conditions worsen and have greater effect on the body. In fact, HIV symptoms may not present themselves for months, even years. However, there are cases in which some symptoms do occur, and they are as follows:

  • Red rash
  • Tiredness/ fatigue
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle ache
  • Sweating at night
  • Enlarged glands/ swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Chills
  • Weakness
  • Mouth ulcers

A lot of these symptoms are characteristic with the flu or common cold, which is why it can be quite difficult to identify a case of HIV immediately. In some cases, there may be no symptoms whatsoever. Here, the virus steadily damages the body and its organs for years before it is noticed. Moreover, there are also a few other HIV symptoms in men. These include low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, infertility, sores on the penis, and breast tissue growth.

AIDS symptoms

AIDS is stage-3 HIV, which is when the body’s immune system is supressed to a level that it is vulnerable to serious illnesses. The symptoms of AIDS include:

  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • White spots on tongue and mouth
  • Dry cough
  • Blurred vision
  • Swollen glands
  • Fever lasting for weeks
  • Permanent tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pneumonia
  • Neurological disorders

HIV health complications

Under normal circumstances, when the body’s immune system is in a good condition, common infections of all kinds are dealt with without major complications. However, with HIV, the body’s immune system is weakened, and common infections now have a greater adverse effect. Doctors refer to these HIV health complications as opportunistic infections (OIs) and generally look for these to diagnose late-stage HIV.

These are some of the OIs that arise as a result of HIV infection:

  • Invasive cervical cancer
  • Cryptococcosis
  • Cytomegalovirus disease (CMV)
  • Herpes simplex (HSV)
  • HIV-related encephalopathy
  • Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Recurrent pneumonia
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Wasting syndrome
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma

HIV treatment

As there is no HIV cure, the priority is to get treatment to halt the progression of HIV. With adequate healthcare, those infected can live long and relatively healthy lives. Typically, the first course of action is to get on antiretroviral drugs (ART). These fight the infection and limit its spread throughout the body.

Typically, doctors can start infected persons on either highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) or combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). Among these, there are numerous subgroups that inhibit growth of the infection and block HIV from entering cells. A good example of such medication is Entry Inhibitors. These prevent the HIV infection from entering T cells that are needed for it to replicate.

It is also important to note that HIV treatment is generally permanent. Meaning, it cannot be stopped at any point and routine dosage must be adhered to stay healthy. However, this constant medication can have side effects, which are commonly fatigue, headaches, nausea, and diarrhoea.

Prevention tips

As there is no cure and treatment is lifelong, prevention is the best option. Given that it is mainly transmitted through bodily fluids, HIV can be easily avoided with proper care. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Abstinence from sexual activity is a 100% effective HIV prevention option
  • Do not engage in sexual intercourse without using a condom
  • Limiting the number of sexual partners you have reduces HIV risk
  • Do not engage in intravenous drug injection or needle sharing
  • Avoid contact with blood, especially if contaminated

With such a virus, prevention should be a priority at all costs, as it can be passed on to others as well. However, in the unfortunate circumstance that you find yourself exposed to the virus, the first step to take is to get an HIV test done. There are a fairly simple blood or saliva tests that look for the virus, HIV antibodies and/or HIV antigens. You can discuss the best test for you with your doctor. An easy way to do so at the earliest is to use the Bajaj Finserv Health app.

With it, you can find relevant doctors near you, book appointment online and get the treatment you need. What’s more, you can also maintain digital patient records via the ‘Health Vault’ feature and send these to labs and doctors digitally for easier diagnosis. You can also opt to avail telemedicine services and consult specialists virtually from the comfort of your home. With HIV, time is of the essence and this app ensures you quality healthcare at your fingertips. To get started, download the app for free from Google Play or the Apple App Store today.