Q and A

Question

How long can I live without HIV drugs?

Can you please tell me how long can someone live without taking HIV medication?

Answer

The best way to answer this is to say that modern HIV treatment (ART) means that life expectancy is not affected by being HIV positive. HIV positive people with access to treatment can be expected to live as long as before they became positive.

Without using HIV treatment, life expectancy is related to how quickly your CD4 count drops and how low it gets.

Without treatment, some people see their CD4 count drop to under 200 within a few years of infection, while others people can go for  5-10 years or longer before they need treatment.

See also: Your CD4 count and the risk of becoming ill.

This is different to saying how long you could live. However, without treatment, once your CD4 count falls below 200 life expectancy drops very dramatically.

Note: This answer was updated in January 2017 from a question first posted in November 2011.

129 comments

  1. Roy Trevelion

    Hi Royal Within,

    It’s great that you have been strong and vibrant without ARVs for 30 years. Some HIV positive people somehow manage to keep HIV under control without meds.

    But the majority of people living with HIV need to take ARVs. This is because HIV wears down the immune system so much that they get seriously ill without HIV treatment (ART). Here’s a link to the guide ART in Pictures.

  2. Royal Within

    Not true for me. No ARVs – 30 years and strong and vibrant.

  3. Lisa Thorley

    Hi Edna,

    When was your granddaughter last testested? If it was before she was 18 months old, then yes she should have a test. However, its important to understand that kids get headaches and diarrhoea for all sorts of reasons.

  4. Edna

    My granddaughter was is now 10. She was born to hiv positive parents. She was put on treatment at birth and monitored for up to 6 mths. She was ten tested and result was neg. She developed well but always struggle with high body temperatures. Is this any cause for her to be tested again for the hiv virus. She sometimes have diarrhoea and headaches.

  5. Roy Trevelion

    Hi Delaroca,

    I’m sorry, it sounds tough at the moment. I’m in the UK, but here’s a link to AIDS services of Austin. However, you could try these ways to get more info in the US:

    From local and/or national HIV organisations that provide treatment and benefit advice. You live in a large city, and there is likely to be a good HIV support group. Perhaps the above link can provide this.

    But if there isn’t one in Austin, then national services like Project Inform and GMHCare worth trying first. Most US states have free ARV provision under ADAP, but there are both restricted ARV prescription list and sometimes waiting lists are full. See asap.directory.

  6. Delaroca

    My girlfriend Is hiv positive (un detectable) we live in Austin TX. She is struggling to get resources to aid her in receiving the medication needed for her to remain in the clear . She is borderline low income (I’ve heen working a second job to help offset her lack of funds but cannot fully support her… we don’t know what to do anymore to try to get her the medication needed . We are both broken about it. It’s no wonder so many HIV / AIDS effected people have fallen into homelessness or full blown aids seems like the only way anyone can get some kind of government, nonprofit assistance for this condition .

  7. Roy Trevelion

    Dear Murray,
    I’m very sorry to hear that. Are you HIV positive and on HIV treatment? Perhaps you have side effects from this. But talking to your doctor, or somebody else at your clinic, can help try to change things that seem unbearable. What are the main problems with life?

  8. Murray

    I want to die

  9. Roy Trevelion

    Hi Sheila,
    A CD4 count is on the low side. And if your CD4 count is lower than 200 you can be at increased risk of other infections. Many guidelines around the world now recommend HIV treatment (ART) for all people who are HIV positive and at any CD4 count. Is there a reason why you are not on ART?
    There’s a lot more to read in this Introduction to ART.

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