Since 1996, HIV infections have fallen by half. Nevertheless, at the end of 2017, 36.9 million people around the world were living with HIV, according to the UNAIDS organization, and the majority are men. With early diagnosis and effective treatment, the life expectancy for people diagnosed with HIV is the same that for uninfected individuals.
Within the first two to four weeks of the HIV infection, flu-like symptoms strike about half the people who are eventually diagnosed. The symptoms, which could last a few days or up to a few weeks, include fever, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, and chills. Other symptoms may include night sweats, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes. Fewer than 40 percent of people observe no symptoms at all and report feeling healthy during the acute HIV-infection stage. Others experience mild symptoms and ignore them altogether, attributing them to influenza or a bad cold.
During this chronic HIV infection stage, the infected individual may not experience any symptoms. However, the absence of symptoms does not lower the risk of spreading the infecting. This stage can last up to ten years because the infection reproduces at a much slower rate. Some people, however, begin to experience breathing difficulties, weight loss, fatigue, diarrhea, and coughing, and lack of treatment can expedite the development of the HIV infection. Latent HIV can progress into AIDS.
Medical professionals often overlook symptoms of anxiety and depression in individuals diagnosed with HIV. Depression affects about 22 percent of people with HIV, but mental health issues may go undetected due to a primary focus on the physical and internal symptoms. Suicidal thoughts, sleep disturbances, and persistent agitation are just a few of the signs of these deeper issues. While HIV itself does not cause anxiety disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association, some of the medications prescribed for HIV treatment can. Anxiety can more strongly affect those lacking support from friends and family following diagnosis.
Although they are more common in the later stages of HIV, seizures may begin in the earlier stages as well. Most seizures last fewer than five minutes, but people with HIV frequently experience status epilepticus, a type of longer seizure. There are a variety of causes for seizures, including metabolic abnormalities, cerebral lesions, meningitis, and encephalopathy, a condition causing damage or malfunction of the brain. Anticonvulsants are generally prescribed to alleviate this symptom.
Some HIV symptoms affect the mouth and digestive system. Nausea and vomiting are not uncommon in the early, acute stages of HIV. Loss of appetite, along with gastrointestinal problems, may occur at any stage, but may also indicate additional problems with the kidneys or other organs. Tongue inflammation and lesions, in addition to mouth ulcers, make it difficult to eat, which can result in weight loss. Esophageal issues, such as fungal infections like Candida, are the second most common HIV-related symptom.
HIV leads to a higher rate of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and this condition accounts for about 20 percent of the deaths of people with HIV. Strokes and heart attacks occur when there is a severe blockage to the heart, preventing adequate blood flow and damaging the organ. HIV causes reduced good cholesterol and increased triglycerides. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) may further increase the risks associated with CVD because it increases the blood fats. However, ART also stops inflammation in the body, which can help reduce the risks of CVD and is essential in fighting HIV.
In the late stages of HIV, the fingernails and toenails may begin to thicken and curve. The lunula, the white, half-moon shaped area at the base of the nail, may be absent or greatly reduced in size. Some people experience vertical or horizontal brown or black lines across the surface of the nails. Fungal infections like Candida can also strike here. Changes in the nails, hair, skin, and mouth develop due to lowered white blood cell counts.
HIV can lead to many skin-related conditions. Molluscum contagiosum causes extremely contagious pink or brownish bumps on the skin that are highly prevalent in people with HIV. Kaposi sarcomas -- brown, red, or purple patches on the skin -- may also develop, and herpes and other rashes are common as well.
HIV-associated nephropathy (HIVAN) affects the kidney cells, but high blood pressure and diabetes can also contribute to the disease. Higher viral loads, lower CD4 counts, and an additional diagnosis of Hepatitis B or C increase the chances of kidney disease. Although an estimated 30 percent of HIV-infected individuals develop kidney disease, this number has decreased since medical practitioners began using ART to treat the virus.
HIV can also affect the sensory, motor, or thoracic nerves of the neurological systems. Symptoms include numbness or pain in the hands and feet or other unusual sensations. In some cases, even a light touch can cause pain. As it progresses, neuropathy may cause weakness in the hands and feet as well. If the neuropathy affects the cranial nerves, it can lead to lack of motor function in the face. In some cases, anti-HIV medications can cause neuropathy as well.
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