You must be familiar with HIV, but perhaps not know if it is, in any way, affecting your body. Technically known as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, it destroys the CD4+ cells in the body, which are critical to our immune system. These cells are mainly responsible for keeping us healthy from common infections and diseases.
HIV gradually weakens the body’s natural defense system, as it prevails, symptoms start showing up. It is imperative to learn what happens as the virus hits the body and interrupts its systems.
As HIV enters the human body, it launches a direct attack on the body’s immune system. How rapidly the virus progresses will vary by your overall health, age, and how quickly you are being diagnosed with it. Quick diagnosis and treatment can certainly make a huge difference here!
HIV mainly targets the cells that generally defend the immune system off an invader such as HIV. As the virus grows, it damages the infected CD4+ cell and produces more viruses to infect more of the CD4+ cells.
If left untreated, this cycle can continue till the time the immune system gets badly compromised, eventually leaving the person at risk for serious infections and illnesses.
AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is the last stage of HIV. At this stage, the immune system becomes defenseless and is at high risk of contracting opportunistic infections. However, not everyone with HIV develops AIDS. The earlier you get diagnosed with the virus and start receiving treatment, the better the prognosis.
Effects HIV Has On The Human Body
As an individual first contracts HIV, the virus starts affecting their body in several different stages. If it goes untreated, HIV will lead to AIDS – which is the last stage of HIV.
Due to the medical advances that have been made in the last 3 decades, the growth of HIV can be considerably procrastinated or reduced. With proper treatment and lifelong medication, a person suffering from HIV can lead to a healthy life, and in most cases, will not develop AIDS.
Early Side Effects Of HIV
The prime signs of HIV generally appear after 2 to 6 weeks after the virus has hit the immune system in the form of flu-like symptoms. This condition is called seroconversion illness. It is a stage where the patient’s body produces antibodies to fight HIV, which means that their immune system is trying to fight off the infection.
The Flu-like symptoms that may show along seroconversion include:
- Skin rash
- Swollen glands
- Sore throat
- Muscle or joint pain
These symptoms generally last for about a week or two. As the seroconversion phase gets over, an individual may not experience any of the HIV signs for several years.
Although some people tend to feel good even at this phase, it is imperative to remember that HIV is still active in their body. As the virus continues to replicate and infect new cells in the body, it also affects the immune system, which means that it is not able to fully protect the body from catching infections and illness.
Side Effects Of HIV On The Immune System
HIV attacks a cell by initially attaching itself to, and then merges along the host T cells. T cells, which are also called the CD4 cells, which are more like a type of white blood cells that help form a vital part of the body’s immune system.
Once HIV is being able to get through the host cells, it multiplies. The virus damages these cells before they move on to infect other cells in the body.
CD4 cells count basically helps identify the health of an individual’s immune system. A healthy CD4 cell count varies from 500 to 1500.
The CD4 count of an individual affected by HIV who does not receive timely HIV treatment will reduce over the period of time. As the CBD4 level falls below 200, an individual’s immune system will most likely be damaged and the person will experience some of the definitive symptoms and signs of illness.
For all those who do not opt for HIV treatment as early as possible actually put themselves at a greater risk of developing serious symptoms, a condition called symptomatic HIV. They are very likely to pass on this virus to another person.
Without proper treatment, an individual is more likely to develop AIDS as their immune system will no longer be able to defend the body. At this stage, even the most minor diseases may become life-threatening.
Opportunistic Infections And AIDS-defining Diseases
An individual suffering from HIV may also fall sick from opportunistic infections. They are named as opportunistic as these infections mainly take advantage of a weakened and damaged immune system. The opportunistic diseases are generally caused by harmless, ordinary viruses, fungi and bacteria, which only provoke illness when the immune system is highly compromised. Most of these infections are not life-threatening to an individual with a healthy and strong immune system. To someone who is suffering from HIV, nevertheless, they can be quite serious and potentially fatal.
An opportunistic infection is what could lead to AIDS–defining illnesses when it multiplies and spreads beyond the organ or region where it is generally found.
Some of the very common opportunistic infections are:
- Cryptococcal meningitis
- A certain type of cancers like Kaposi’s sarcoma
People suffering from HIV also develop coinfections – these are diseases that can both affect HIV or be affected by HIV.
Hepatitis and Tuberculosis are two of the most common HIV coinfections.
Side Effects Of HIV On Cardiovascular And Respiratory System
HIV increases the risk of flu, fever, and pneumonia. Without advanced preventive HIV treatment, puts an individual is at a greater risk for complications such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and a disease called pneumocystis carinii pneumonia or PCP. PCP causes:
- Troubled breathing
A person suffering from HIV is at a higher risk of getting lung cancer. This is mainly caused by weakened lungs from several respiratory problems that eventually weaken the immune system. Lung cancer is more prevalent among people suffering from HIV than those who are without it.
The risk of pulmonary arterial hypertension also increases with HIV. PAH is more like high blood pressure that takes place in the arteries that supply blood to the lungs. Over a period of time, PAH even strains the heart of the HIV patient.
If the patient has become immunocompromised, they are more susceptible to tuberculosis, which is a leading cause of death in people suffering from AIDS. Tuberculosis is an airborne bacterium mainly affecting the lungs. Some of the prime symptoms include severe chest pain and cough that may contain phlegm or blood, which may continue for months.
Effects Medication Have On The Human Body
Although there is no definite cure for HIV being discovered till date, there are still medical treatments that have been made available that can considerably help reduce the amount of virus in the body to an extent where it may become untraceable in the blood.
The amount of virus that stays back in the individual’s body is called the viral load. This undetectable viral load indicates that an individual with HIV is not at all infectious and the virus present in their blood will not damage their immune system, unless it grows back and attacks the immune system.
The treatment being used for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). It is highly recommended that anyone who has been diagnosed with HIV starts receiving appropriate treatment immediately, no matter what their CD4 cell count may be.
HIV treatment has also been referred to as a combination therapy as people generally take a combination of three different medications at the same time. The combination therapy is primarily applied because HIV can acclimatize quickly and become defiant to just one type of ART.
A ‘fixed medication combo’ is when ART medications have been combined in a single drug, which means that an individual suffering from HIV can take just 1 or 2 tablets a day. It is crucial that people consume drugs as they have been prescribed by the physician in the right away and at the right time every day.
Individuals suffering from HIV may experience some common side effects that may appear from consuming these ART drugs. The most common side effects include:
- High cholesterol levels
- High blood sugar levels
- Skin rashes
- Vomiting and nausea
When an individual is undergoing the ART treatment, they need to be aware of the fact that their medication may work together with other prescribed drugs, as well as recreational medication along with herbal remedies.
Some of the other possible side effects of HIV medication include:
- Glucose intolerance
- Inflamed pancreas
- Poor kidney functioning
An HIV patient who is on ART medication may experience metabolic effects, such as insulin resistance, hyperlipidemia, and fat redistribution. They may also develop several other conditions, such as osteoporosis and osteopenia, which greatly affect their bones.
Despite all these issues, there is evidence that ensures the long-term safety of ART treatment, which has considerably enhanced the life expectancy of people suffering from HIV.