Treatments for HIV and AIDS

Treatments for HIV and AIDS

Pamela Bandelaria |Jul 5, 2021

How to Treat HIV

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) are two illnesses that cannot be cured. However, they can be managed. In this article, we discuss what exactly HIV and AIDS are, along with their symptoms, and how to treat HIV with alternative and natural methods, as well as with medications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 2018, there are about 1.2 million people currently affected with HIV and/or AIDS in the U.S. HIV and AIDS are illnesses that have such a huge impact and there is advocacy to educate people about the diseases, which aims to help erase the stigma.

There were around 34,000 new cases of HIV infections in 2019, which is an 8% decline from the previous year. This article will discuss what HIV is and what its symptoms are. After that, this article will discuss a few treatment options, both medical and alternative.

What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that belongs to the retroviridae or retroviruses. As retroviruses, a characteristic of HIV is that its genetic blueprint is RNA (ribonucleic acid) instead of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).

Once they infect a cell, they use their host cell as machinery to make DNA copies of their genetic material to replicate and spread. HIV targets CD4 cells, specific cells that play a role in the immune system. If a person with HIV infection is not diagnosed and treated promptly, the infection can progress into an advanced stage called AIDS, which is characterized by a weak immune system due to low CD4 cells. Because of the damaged immune system, an infected person is easily susceptible to infections and simple illnesses that can easily resolve in a person without HIV can be life-threatening in a person with AIDS.

Who Can Get It?

The transmission of HIV occurs via infected blood or body fluids. These occur through sexual activity (including anal and vaginal sex), sharing of needles, such as in injecting drugs, or administering tattoos.

HIV can also be passed from an infected mother to their baby, whether in the womb or during delivery, and is also present in breast milk. HIV is not spread through pee, spit, or sweat. Coughing, sneezing, holding hands, or sharing utensils will not transmit HIV.

Anyone can have HIV and AIDS, however, some high-risk groups or activities increase the chances of getting the infection. In the U.S., the population most affected by HIV are people who are gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with other men. This comprises around 69% of new HIV cases. Another high-risk group is those who inject drugs or share needles. People who engage in multiple sexual partners and those who engage in sexual activity without protection are also at an increased risk for getting HIV. Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can also increases your risk of getting infected with HIV. It does not mean that if you do not belong to a high-risk group you will not get infected, and some patients do not even know that they already have it until it is too late.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of HIV and AIDS initially are systemic. These include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Headaches
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Ulcers in mouth, anus or groin, and genital area

Because these symptoms are non-specific and usually go away after time, some people do not know they have the illness and continue with their usual activities. They can unknowingly transmit the infection to other people especially if they engage in high-risk activities mentioned above.

However, as the infection continues and is left untreated, other symptoms will manifest after a few years. These include weight loss and increased susceptibility to infections. Full-blown AIDS usually involves severe weight loss with frequent cases of pneumonia and is associated with several cancers (Kaposi sarcoma and lymphomas). These patients are extremely thin and wasted, and may have multiple nodules or lumps all over the body. They may also cough frequently and have difficulty breathing because of pneumonia.

What Tests Are Used to Diagnose HIV and AIDS?

HIV is usually diagnosed by various tests, the most common of which are blood tests. AIDS is considered in HIV-infected people who have a CD4 count of less than 200 along with the symptoms associated with AIDS. If you suspect that you might have HIV, or are at a high risk for contracting HIV, consult a physician or your nearest facility. There are also numerous HIV/STD testing centers where it can be done for free. Some tests can be bought at the pharmacy and even be done at home.

What is the Treatment for HIV and AIDS?

HIV and AIDS are primarily treated medically. These medications are called antiretroviral drugs and are prescribed in various combinations, depending on each patient. The goals for treatment with antiretroviral drugs are to reduce the amount of HIV in the body (reduce viral load) and to make sure that the CD4 cells remain high. Patients taking medications for HIV are advised to have routine follow-ups to check the CD4 cell count and viral load to make sure that they are within acceptable limits. If a patient has an undetectable viral load, there is a small chance to pass the virus to another person.

Antiretroviral drugs only control the infection and reduce the viral load, but patients are not completely cured. If medication will be stopped, there is a chance that the virus will replicate and spread again. However, if the infection is controlled, patients with HIV can live normally, with good quality of life.

Home Remedies

There are adjunct treatments, complementary/home remedies that can be done alongside the intake of medications. Though they may not be effective on their own, they are found to help in the improvement of the overall wellbeing of patients and are found to contribute to the relief of symptoms and the improvement of quality of life. These include the intake of herbal medicines and engaging in relaxation techniques (ex. meditation) or physical therapies (yoga, massage, or acupuncture).

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques help in providing a positive outlook and a good mindset. This was also found to reduce anxiety and depression that can be associated with having the infection. Physical therapies can help in body aches, muscle pains, and overall relaxation of the body. Acupuncture, which involves the application of thin needles on certain pressure points in the body, was found to be helpful in relief from nausea and body pain. Not only are relaxation techniques and physical therapies helpful for physical health, but it is also helpful for mental health as well.

Herbs

Herbal medicines were found to help people cope with the symptoms (headache, body aches) or the side effects of antiretroviral medications. An example of herbal medicine is milk thistle, which is helpful for an upset stomach, and was found to help in liver detoxification. However, intake of herbal medicines must be done with caution. Before starting anything, it is important to let your physician know first. Some herbal medicines can interact with antiretroviral drugs and can cause further problems than relief. An example of this is St. John’s wort, which is used by some to improve a person’s mood but is not advised if you are taking certain antiretroviral medications. Make sure you discuss with your physician and inform them before starting anything.

Support Groups

Finally, having a good social support system is also helpful when living with HIV or AIDS. It was found that most people infected with HIV have increased coping strategies, such as behavioral disengagement or self-distraction leading to poor social interaction and communication, as well as decreased productivity. Having an environment with people who support and empower HIV patients not only decreases the stigma but provides healthy social relationships and better quality of life.

Let’s End the Stigma

It is time to erase the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. This can be attainable as more and more people are becoming aware and educated. HIV and AIDS are not a death sentence. As long as it is diagnosed early and the appropriate treatment is given promptly, many people with this disease can live a normal, meaningful life. What separates people from living and dying from this disease is prompt diagnosis and treatment. If you think you might have this condition, it is best to seek consultation and have yourself checked by your physician.

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