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AIDS – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

AIDS

AIDS , derived from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome , is an immune deficiency disease caused by the HI virus. HIV infection thus precedes AIDS. Unfortunately, up to the current state of medical research, there is still no cure or therapeutic approach that can successfully treat this disease. The most common cause of infection with the HI virus and subsequently AIDS is unprotected sex with people who are already infected with the HI virus.

What is AIDS?

The disease AIDS (abbreviation for: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which in German roughly means: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is now known to everyone because it is incurable to this day and can shorten life considerably. It is often confused with the HIV infection , in which only the HI virus has infected the human body and over the course of several years will ensure that the immune system is completely destroyed.

AIDS, on the other hand, is the term used to describe the condition in which the immune system is so severely damaged that so-called opportunistic infections can spread and ultimately kill the person.

causes

AIDS is the terminal consequence of infection with the HI virus. As soon as the viruses find their way into the human body, they initially only trigger mild, flu-like symptoms that soon disappear. However, the viruses do not do this: they remain in the body and cannot be recognized and destroyed by the human immune cells, as would be the case with other pathogens.

Viruses smuggle their RNA (ribonucleic acid) into healthy human body cells and reprogram them in such a way that they can only produce new viruses. The body cells then die off and the viruses look for new host cells again. This mechanism destroys healthy immune cells until they are gone.

One speaks of AIDS when the state of the immune system is obviously permanently disturbed or diseased. AIDS makes itself felt through so-called opportunistic infections or opportunistic tumors, which can spread because the immune system has nothing to counteract them.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

AIDS is a full-blown HIV infection characterized by severe opportunistic infections, brain dysfunction and what is known as the wasting syndrome. Wasting syndrome causes long-lasting diarrhea, fever , exhaustion and severe weight loss that exceeds ten percent of body weight. The functional disorders of the brain are expressed through a variety of neuropsychiatric symptoms such as disturbances of consciousness, movement disorders and vegetative disorders.

Increasing dementia can develop as a result of degenerative processes. However, particularly typical of AIDS are the severe opportunistic infections caused by microorganisms which do not cause any problems in healthy people. These infections include severe pneumonia caused by the fungus Pneumocystis jirovecii, bacterial pneumonia, tuberculosis , toxoplasmosis or repeated infections with salmonella.

Frequently, herpes infections also occur in the stomach, esophagus or lungs. In addition, infections occur that do not occur in healthy people. These include infections with the cytomegalovirus , which particularly attacks the retina of the eye, fungal infections transmitted by birds, intestinal infections with protozoa and other atypical infections.

The occurrence of malignant tumors such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, various non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, malignant tumors of the CNS or aggressive cervical cancer is also typical of AIDS . Kaposi’s sarcoma is characterized by multiple brown-red indurated plaques on the skin. These nodules form ulcers and, if left untreated, can affect the entire skin, mucous membranes, and various organs. Every single disease associated with AIDS can be fatal.

Course

The course of the disease in AIDS takes very little time. After all, AIDS is only mentioned when the immune system is no longer able to fight off other pathogens. The course of the disease is structured in such a way that the affected person will one day contract an infection that can be banal – but he will die from it within a few weeks, since the HI infection has almost completely weakened his immune system. Also possible are tumor diseases, which can quickly lead to death.

However, before AIDS occurs, the HI infection is followed by a latency phase lasting many years, in which the immune system is merely degraded. Meanwhile, the person affected may not yet die from banal infections, but they can last longer and be more troublesome. Only when it becomes obvious that the person affected can no longer defend themselves against an illness can one speak of AIDS.

It can also happen very rarely that AIDS never breaks out and the infected person remains in the latency phase for life or fights the HI virus.

Complications

As the end stage of HIV infection, AIDS is always associated with serious complications. First, there is an increased risk of various infections and inflammations, including, for example , bronchitis , cytomegalovirus infection, salmonella septicemia, and the candida fungal infection. Pneumonia or inflammation of the esophagus and various types of pneumonia also often occur .

The risk of tumor diseases also increases significantly, which can cause cervical cancer and malignant lymphoma, among other things. Specific sequelae of AIDS are Kaposi’s sarcoma (a malignant tumor), wasting syndrome (rapid weight loss with chronic diarrhea) and mycobacterial infections that occur either in the lungs or throughout the body.

In general, there is an increased risk of developing tumors and infections with AIDS. The occurrence of these secondary diseases is usually accompanied by rapid physical and mental deterioration. Diseases such as HIV encephalopathy cause irreversible damage to the brain, leading to further complications.

The ultimate consequence of AIDS is multiple organ failure and unconsciousness, along with the death of the patient. With a comprehensive therapy, however, AIDS-typical complications can at least be reduced nowadays.

When should you go to the doctor?

After a certain incubation period (which can last a long time), infection with HIV leads to AIDS. The treacherous thing is that the first symptoms after infection resemble flu or a common cold and cannot be easily distinguished at first. Characteristics are diffuse symptoms such as fever, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, rash, muscle pain, nausea, diarrhea or weight loss. For this reason, an infection with the HI virus is often not immediately recognized as such.

Another problem is that the symptoms that follow the infection are followed by a longer latency period, which can last for years. During this time, patients are practically symptom-free. However, if the infection with HIV is not treated, this inevitably leads to the onset of the disease at a later point in time. A severely weakened immune system is the most important indicator. It makes those affected susceptible to infections and cancer.

So if flu-like symptoms occur for no apparent reason that last for a long period of time and where conventional treatment methods do not work, it is time to see a general practitioner. They can carry out a blood test and then refer you to special specialists. This applies in particular if you belong to the so-called risk groups (drug addicts, people with frequently changing sex partners, etc.)

Treatment & Therapy

AIDS cannot currently be cured; only palliative treatment is possible. Once the sufferer falls ill with an opportunistic infection, it is possible to at least relieve the symptoms. If you have a cold or a similar infection caused by AIDS, the symptoms can be treated. Treatment with antibiotics or other means would no longer make sense.

However, the main focus of the treatment of AIDS at the moment is to delay the onset of AIDS after an HIV infection. There are already modern approaches that this delay is possible for several years or even decades. However, medical research is working flat out to defeat AIDS.

If, on the other hand, it is an opportunistic tumor caused by AIDS, painkillers are often administered and the affected person suffers less as a result. It is also important to monitor the AIDS patient during this time in order to be able to treat the symptoms appropriately and avoid pain.

Outlook & Forecast

HIV infection is still not completely curable. However, a fully developed immune deficiency can be avoided with comprehensive therapy. A consistent and long-term treatment of the viral infection is decisive for a positive prognosis.

However, once AIDS has broken out, it is fatal. However, modern medicines can significantly improve the life expectancy and quality of life of those affected. In the long term, however, secondary diseases develop, such as infections and liver or cancer diseases, which continue to weaken the immune system and the entire organism.

Patients with other illnesses as well as older people or people addicted to drugs have a particularly low life expectancy. Even in countries with less good health care, the prospects of a long life with AIDS are significantly poorer.

aftercare

There are no follow-up measures that can be taken in the case of AIDS. Rather, the after-care measures must be based on the different conditions that result in the diagnosis “AIDS”. The reason for this is that AIDS cannot be cured. In some cases, however, the patient’s condition can still be improved by consistent drug therapy. Follow-up examinations consist of monitoring CD4 counts and viral load everywhere.

In the case of HIV-associated anal carcinoma, annual check-ups are necessary, which consist of checking the rectum and parts of the large intestine. In the case of all infections and parasite infestations associated with HIV, the corresponding aftercare options must also be exhausted. In many cases, this means regular medical care for the AIDS patient and blood tests to detect and monitor subsequent infections.

Overall, the follow-up measures taken in AIDS patients in the event of developing and treated diseases are the same as in HIV-negative patients. Only the use of immunosuppressants (where this makes sense) should be urgently reconsidered.

To prevent further opportunistic infections, those affected by AIDS should lead a very healthy lifestyle that maximizes the immune system. This includes a healthy diet, exercise and avoiding substances that negatively affect the immune system, such as alcohol and nicotine.

You can do that yourself

Since AIDS is an acquired immune deficiency, all steps that strengthen the immune system are indicated. Due to the severity of the disease, self-help measures are only possible to a limited extent.

In addition to taking medication regularly, a mixed diet rich in vitamins , lots of sport and exercise in the fresh air are beneficial. It is particularly important to ensure a sufficient amount of vitamin C. Other immune-boosting measures such as contrast showers and a regular daily routine are also helpful. In some cases, the side effects of the medication can be reduced in this way. Anyone who maintains a positive attitude to life despite the illness is also doing their immune system good. Helpful, supportive social contacts instead of exclusion are good for body, soul and spirit.

Due to their immunodeficiency, those affected should avoid infections from others. Vaccinations can help (e.g. when traveling to other countries), but vaccinations are sometimes not recommended for people with AIDS. Alternative healing methods can be tested as supporting measures. However, acupuncture , homeopathy and the like are not yet scientifically sound.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.