HIV therapies have improved dramatically, and those living with the virus are surviving for many years. But there’s a difference between living longer and living well. To do both, people with HIV will have to better manage the complications that can come with the virus that causes AIDS.
Some of the complications, such as heart disease and diabetes, are ones everybody has to deal with as they get older. Some are connected to a weakened immune system, even a person’s virus is under control. Some health problems are the result of bad lifestyle choices, like smoking and drinking alcohol. And still others are caused by the side effects of medication use.
“Newer HIV medications have very little toxicity compared to older ones, but those lucky enough to survive for decades may be subject to chronic medication side effects,” J. Wesley Thompson, a physician’s assistant at Rosedale Infectious Diseases in Rosedale, North Carolina, told Everyday Health.
Below, we describe the nine most common health issues for people living with HIV and provide tips to help minimize them:
Cancer. People with HIV are at a higher risk of developing certain cancers, including liver, lung, anus, cervix and blood (non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma), according to the National Cancer Institute. That’s why routine cancer screenings are imperative. Men with HIV, especially those who have sex with men, should be screened regularly for anal cancer. Women with HIV should have regular cervical cancer screenings. People who smoke should stop; it’s the best way to avoid lung cancer.
Diabetes. Some HIV medications boost the risk of a diabetes diagnosis. Before starting a patient on any of those meds, a doctor should test his blood sugar levels. The risk of diabetes increases with age, so it’s a good idea to lower that risk by exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet that includes fruits, lean protein and dairy, vegetables and whole grains.
Dementia. HIV can increase the risk of dementia. For this reason, medication holidays aren’t recommended. The best prevention? Take all medicine as directed.
Fatigue. Exhaustion is common with HIV, with fatigue a result of the virus itself or a side effect of treatment. To boost energy, follow a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthy meals, exercise and get adequate sleep.
Fungal infections. A weakened immune system increases the likelihood of opportunistic fungal infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To prevent infections: Don’t dig in the garden without long pants, long sleeves and gloves. Avoid exposure to bird or bat droppings. And if a fungal infection develops, talk to the doctor about starting anti-fungal medication right away.
Heart disease. Men with HIV are at greater risk of atherosclerosis, the buildup of soft plaque in the arteries that feed the heart. In addition, some HIV medications also increase cholesterol levels. To prevent this exercise, eat a healthy diet, have cholesterol levels checked regularly and quit smoking.
Kidney disease. About one-third of all HIV patients have abnormal kidney function. Get regular lab tests of blood and urine to check for any kidney damage. Talk to health-care professionals about avoiding medications that may damage kidneys.
Shingles. Shingles, the virus that causes chickenpox, is more likely to affect people with HIV. Experts suggest getting the shingles vaccine.
Tuberculosis. Tuberculosis, or TB, a serious bacterial infection that affects the lungs, TB is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV worldwide, according to AIDS.gov. The CDC recommends people with HIV tested for TB.
With regular checkups, sticking to treatment plans, and following a healthy lifestyle, people with HIV can avoid many of the complications of the virus.