Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS): Causes, Complications, and Treatment

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What is AIDS?

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS is a set of symptoms caused by the HIV virus. It is in fact, the most advanced stage of infection caused by HIV. This disease modifies and corrupts the immune system, making people susceptible to infections and diseases. The susceptibility worsens as the syndrome progresses.

The names HIV and AIDS can be confusing because both terms describe the same disease.

However, people who are HIV-positive need not necessarily have AIDS.
 An HIV-positive person becomes an AIDS patient when his or her immune system becomes extremely weak and non-resistant to various infections and diseases such as tuberculosis, candidiasis, meningitis, Toxoplasma gondii, PCP (a type of pneumonia), herpes simplex and herpes zoster. An AIDS patient can also be susceptible to cancers such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, lymphoma, and cervical cancer. They are also prone to wasting syndrome (involuntary weight loss), and memory impairment.

Most people with HIV however, can prevent AIDS by starting treatment (with medicines called antiretroviral therapy or ART) soon after becoming infected with the virus.

How does AIDS occur?

AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV-positive infection that occurs when your immune system is irreparably damaged and you become vulnerable to what is known as opportunistic infections. Opportunistic infections are infections caused by pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi, or protozoa) and occur more often in people with weakened immune systems.

AIDs gets transmitted from an infected person to another through direct contact with bodily fluids such as:

  • blood (including menstrual blood)
  • semen / cum / precum / ejaculate
  • vaginal secretions
  • breast milk

The highest concentration of the virus is found in blood, followed by semen, followed by vaginal fluids, and then by breast milk.

AIDS gets transmitted through:

  • any form of sexual contact that involves semen, pre-cum, vaginal fluids or blood.
  • contact with infected blood, especially through sharing infected injections, or through blood transfusions.
  • mother to baby during or before birth or while breastfeeding the baby, through breast milk.

The count of CD4 cells in a human body shows the immunity level of the person. A person with a healthy immune system has CD4 counts between 500 and 1,600 cells per cubic millimetre. When the number of CD4 cells fall below 200 cells per cubic millimetre of blood, then the person is said to have AIDS.

Once a person has been diagnosed with AIDS, she or he is always considered to be an AIDS patient even if that person's CD4 count goes up again or they recover from the disease that defined their AIDS diagnosis.

Who is prone to AIDS?

Anyone of any age, race, sex or sexual orientation can be infected, but you're at greatest risk of HIV/AIDS if you:

  • have unprotected sex without using a condom
  • have anal sex
  • have multiple sexual partners.
  • suffer from sexually transmitted infection which may cause sores in your genital area through which the HIV virus may enter your body.
  • share needles and syringes for intravenous drugs
  • an uncircumcised man

What are the causes of AIDS?

The causes of AIDS include:

  • having unprotected sex with an HIV infected partner
  • sharing drug needles with someone who is infected by HIV
  • the virus passing on from an expectant mother to her baby, during or before birth or while breastfeeding the baby, through breast milk.
  • blood transfusion of infected blood

What are the symptoms of AIDS? How is AIDS diagnosed?

The most common symptoms of AIDS include:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • skin rash
  • muscle aches and joint pains
  • headache
  • a sore throat
  • weight loss (anorexia)
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • oral ulcers
  • genital or anal ulcers
  • weight loss
  • night sweats
  • a persistent cough
  • enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groin.
  • persistent nausea


To diagnose AIDS, the doctor will need:

  1. a confirmed, positive test for HIV i.e. results showing HIV-positive.
  2. evidence of an AIDS-defining condition or severely depleted CD4 cells.

Testing for HIV involves:

  • a screening test
  • a confirmatory test

For the screening test, either blood is obtained from a finger or a vein, or a urine sample or oral swab is taken. The results can be obtained on the same day or may take a few days.

If the result of the screening test is positive, the results are again confirmed by a special test called a Western blot or indirect immunofluorescence assay test. The confirmatory test is necessary because the screening test is not considered to be very accurate.

The first step is usually a screening test that looks for antibodies against the HIV. Specimens for testing come from blood obtained from a vein or a finger stick, an oral swab, or a urine sample. Results can come back in minutes (rapid tests) or can take several days, depending on the method that is used. If the screening HIV test is positive, the results are confirmed by a special test called a Western blot or indirect immunofluorescence assay test.

A Western blot detects antibodies to specific components of the virus. The confirmatory test is necessary because the screening test is less accurate and occasionally will be positive in those who do not have HIV.

If the confirmatory test results come back as positive, the person has a 99% likelihood of being infected with HIV.

Another way to diagnose HIV infection is to do a special test to detect viral particles in the blood. These tests detect RNA, DNA, or viral antigens. However, these tests are more commonly used for guiding treatment rather than for diagnosis.

What are the complications of AIDS?

The complications of AIDS include:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Candidiasis
  • Cryptococcal meningitis
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • Wasting syndrome
  • Neurological complications
  • Kidney diseases
  • Memory impairment

Some cancers which are common among AIDS patients are:

  • Kaposi's sarcoma
  • Lymphomas
  • Cervical cancer in women

What is the treatment of AIDS?

Medical Treatment

There's no cure for HIV/AIDS, but a variety of drugs may be prescribed by your doctor to control the virus. The drugs are used in combination.

A few health issues that are a part of the natural ageing process, occurs earlier if you suffer from AIDS and may be more difficult to manage.
 Medications may be prescribed for these conditions. However, some medications such as those for cardiovascular, metabolic and bone conditions, may not interact well with anti-HIV medications. You will need to discuss your conditions in detail with your doctor so that he/she can make sure your medicines do not react with each other.

You will be monitored every two to three months especially for your CD4 counts and viral load.

HIV treatment should reduce your viral load to the point that it's undetectable. Though, this does not mean you are free of HIV or that you will not transmit it to others.

Staying Healthy with AIDS 

With a few precautions, you can lead a normal life even if you suffer from AIDS.  

  • Ask your doctor about vaccination so that you can get vaccinated if you have AIDS.
  • Use condoms while having sex with your partner to avoid transmitting the disease and avoiding exposure to sexually transmitted infections.
  • Avoid illicit drug use and needle sharing.
  • Religiously take the medicines prescribed by your doctor to avoid any kind of AIDS-related complications.
  • Take extra precautions when working or visiting hospitals or any other health care facilities so that you do not contract any infection.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked products and unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Wash your hands frequently when preparing foods.
  • Drink filtered water.
Would you like to consult a doctor for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) ?

Questions answered by trusted doctors

Verified User
One day I drink a Cooldrink with two straws along with the person having aids. Tell me whether aids will transmit through such act...
Dr. Jagat Shah
Sexologist, Mumbai
Hi, no u can't acquire HIV from it, pls don't worry .
Dr. Mohini Vachhani
Gynecologist, Mumbai
No it can not be transmitted through the fluid shared by straw. For your peace of mind do ur HIV test.
Verified User
My partner was found to be hepatitis b positive, so i want to know which test i should get done to know my status
Dr. E. Ramanjaneyulu
Gastroenterologist, Hyderabad
HBsAg - it is a blood test
Ask health queries and get free answers from doctors in 24 hrs

Did you know?

India has the third largest number of AIDS patients

India has the third-highest number of people living with HIV in the world with 2.1 million Indians accounting for about 4 out of 10 people infected with the deadly virus in the Asia-Pacific region.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatment not easily accessible to people In India

The proportions of people who do not have access to antiretroviral therapy treatment are 64 per cent in India. (ART are medications that treat HIV. The drugs do not kill or cure the virus. However, when taken in combination they can prevent the growth of the virus).

North East India has a large population of AIDS patients

Out of the total 21.17 lakh people living with HIV in India, the North Eastern region has around 63,000 people living with HIV.

Drugs is a major cause of AIDS

In India, HIV prevalence among women who inject drugs was nearly twice that or more than the figures for their male counterparts.

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