Your HIV

You can grow old with HIV. In fact, there is a very good chance that you will. More than half of those who are HIVhiv positive (or ‘seropositive’) give their current health a score of eight, nine or ten (out of a possible ten). One in ten gives their health a score of ‘unsatisfactory’. Nevertheless it is very important that you start using HIV medications at some point and that you take them on time every day: one to six pills, once or twice a day.

HIV is a virus that weakens your body’s natural defence (the immune system) against bacteria, viruses and other things that can cause disease. If the HIV virus (also known as the ‘AIDS virus’) damages your immune system, you will not be able to fight off certain diseases properly anymore. You might become ill from infections that a normal immune system would be able to handle.

Just infected with HIV
Immediately after you have been infected with HIV, your immune system does not yet know how to respond to it. This phase is called the primary infection. In that phase, HIV can damage your natural defence without the immune system being able to do anything about it. Your immune system needs time to learn how to react. Some people who are infected with HIV do not notice anything different at first. Others have symptoms in the first two months after being infected, since their immune system has quickly become weaker in that period. Often those are limited to flu-like symptoms, but some people may get something serious, such as meningitis, and need to be admitted to hospital straight away.

Your immunne system surpresses the virus
Once you have been infected with a virus, your immune system starts producing antibodies to protect you. Those antibodies will usually remain in your blood for the rest of your life. With most viruses, such as ones that cause the flu, your body’s natural defence will overcome the infection. Also with HIV, your body produces antibodies against the HIV virus. Those antibodies suppress the HIV virus and your immune system cleans up the infected cells. Your body’s natural defence recovers, and if you had any symptoms directly after your infection with HIV, you will start to feel better again.

The virus defeats your immunne system
Your body’s natural defence cannot knock out the HIV virus completely, however. In other words, the HIV virus remains in your body. If you never start using HIV medications, the virus will win out against your immune system at some point. How long that will take varies from person to person. In some cases it could be just a number of months, though it usually takes several years and sometimes more than ten years. If you start using HIV medications before your virus starts to overcome your immune system, you will prevent yourself from becoming (seriously) ill. The most important initial symptoms and health problems that you might get if your body’s natural defence gets weaker are listed below. This list is not meant to scare you. It is meant to make you alert so that you will notice things if you have them.

  • (extreme) fatigue: feeling(very)tired
  • continuing weight loss
  • continuing fever (higher than 38 °C)
  • heavy night sweats
  • persistent diarrhoea
  • swollen lymph glands (nodes) in your neck, armpits and groin area
  • Candida: fungal infections usually located in your mouth, throat or vagina (you can recognise this fungus by its white eruptions)
  • skin problems: dry, peeling skin, eczema, etc.
  • (returning) anal and vaginal warts
  • Serious gum infections
  • shingles (herpes zoster): blisters filled with fluid, accompanied by neuralgia (pain in your nerves)

If you discover very late that you have HIV
If you only find out very late that you have HIV, you might already have serious health problems. If you start using HIV medications at that point, your immune system will probably restore itself. It may take years before your body’s natural defence is back in good shape, however. But even in that situation, your health problems are most likely to become much less serious.

Fatigue
Fatigue (being tired) is quite common among people with HIV. You might have it once in a while, even if you have done nothing strenuous. Or you could feel tired a couple of times a day. But you might also find it difficult to work (whole days). Fatigue is often underestimated. It is not measurable in your blood, but it can certainly have a major effect on the quality of your life. It is advisable to discuss it honestly with your internist or HIV nurse. Often you can do something about it or you can get support in learning to live with it. It is rather common for your fatigue to decrease or go away altogether once you have been using HIV medications for a while. Often it takes a long time to track down why you are tired, since there may be several different causes at the same time. What can cause fatigue?

  • The HIV itself, because your immune system has to fight against the virus. That is a tiring activity. Quite often the fatigue will decrease once you have been using HIV medications for a while. That is because there will be much less virus in your body
  • Depression
  • Psychological wrestling with HIV. Worrying takes a lot of energy!
  • Anaemia (too few red blood cells) or a low testosterone level; both are rather common in people with HIV.
  • Other infections, such as Hepatitis B or C.
  • The HIV medications or other medicines that you might be using may cause fatigue as a side effect
  • Getting too little sleep or not eating enough food

Aids
Having HIV does not mean that you also have AIDS. You only have AIDS if HIV has weakened your immune system so severely that you get an opportunistic infection. If your body’s natural defence is extremely weak, you have a greater chance of getting a certain form of pneumonia (PCP) and toxoplasmosis,

For example. If you discover that you have HIV while your immune system is still functioning normally and you start using HIV medications, you will not get AIDS. If you already have AIDS, you can recover quite well by using HIV medications.

Opportunistic infections
These are infections that your immune system would normally be able to eliminate. If your immune system is very weak (that is to say if you have fewer than 200 CD4 cells), such an infection will have a chance to develop.

Contact

Hiv Vereniging Nederland

Eerste Helmersstraat 17

1054 CX AMSTERDAM

020 6 160 160

servicepunt@hivnet.org
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Servicepunt

020 689 25 77
servicepunt@hivnet.org


For questions about living with HIV. Available monday, tuesday and thursday from 2 PM till 10 PM

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