Q and A

Question

How long can I live if I’m taking HIV treatment (ART)?

Can HIV kill when you have an undetectable viral load? I’m doing well on medication and how long can i live to the cure? Lastly, why cant I stop thinking about my HIV status – first thing in the morning and also just before I fall asleep?

Polio have been eradicated but why cant scientists do the same for HIV?

Answer

The quick answer is that with modern HIV drugs (called ART) your life expectancy is likely to be similar to if you were HIV negative. The earlier someone is diagnosed and start ART, the quicker any damage from HIV can be reversed.

For most people, HIV is easy to treat and easy to manage.  ART can give you a normal life expectancy and an excellent quality of life.

Hw long anyone will live depends on things you can change (smoking, exercise, medication) and thing you can’t (genetics and luck).  A study in Denmark (2005) estimated that the survival is more than 35 years for a young person diagnosed with HIV infection and another study in Canada (2003) report that in the US, life expectancy at age 20 years was an additional 58.3 years.

As long as your CD4 count stays above 200 cells/mm3, the risk of most HIV complications is pretty low. At higher CD4 levels – above 350, or 500, or 700 – the risk becomes lower still. Although some health problems are slightly higher in HIV positive people compared to HIV negative people, these risks are also often reduced by ART.

If you continue to take your medication as prescribed and do not miss or taking doses late, then the risk of HIV health problems in the future s very low. However, just as HIV negative people become ill, lifestyle changes to reduce these risks are important if you are HIV positive. For example, keeping mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, resting well, not smoking etc).

Having HIV might not always be easy though. The shock of being diagnosed sometimes takes a long time to come to terms with and at the moment you are still working on this. Already, I am sure you feel better than when you were first diagnosed and this will continue to become easier every year.

Most people worry about the impact of HIV on their life.  This could bewhy you think about your HIV status on a daily basis.  If this continues to be difficult perhaps get in touch with a local support group or ask about counselling. Talking about your HIV status can help you to deal with it and also through group support you can share experiences and also learn from one another.  You do not have to deal with it in isolation.

Finally, you asked about research into a cure. HIV is very complex in a way that is different to polio. Although currently there is no vaccine or cure, there is a lot of ongoing research.

HIV treatment is one of the successes of modern medicine. The breadth and expertise in scientific advances has not only developed 30 medications in five drug classes but this research has contributed to many other areas of medicine.

Even though curing HIV is difficult, there are lots of reasons to be optimistic.

This question was updated in January 2018 from an original answer posted in November 2011. (See: Question 10 at this link for more information).

314 comments

  1. Roy Trevelion

    Hi Paolo,
    Sorry, it sounds like it’s a tough time right now. Can you ask at the clinic for support while you cope with your diagnosis? It can help with feeling sad and depressed.
    But it’s good that you’ve started ART quickly. Being on ART can benefit your overall health, even with a high CD4 count. So many people on ART do sports and are fit.
    Losing weight is usually associated with HIV meds that are not used now in the UK. If you think you’ve lost too much weight it’s a good idea to talk to the doctor about why that is. You can ask about changing ART if your current meds are the cause.
    Here is the guide to HIV and quality of life. It even includes a section on diet and health, this might help get your weight back on track.

  2. Paolo

    Hello,

    I recently been diagnosed of HIV last january 2018. it has been a bad impact in my life until now, i feel im going to die slowly any time soon. im currently coping with my status and trying to accept my condition. i get sad and depress lately, now main problem is that i lost alot of weight from 187lbs im now 178lbs, iam a very active person who is into sports i feel depressed that i wont be able to get my body back again (be fit). i now get shy going outside because some of my friends notice i lost alot of weight, i just try to tell them that im on a diet. im taking ART the day i found out abt my diagnosis. can you help me on how to gain weight again and also i notice im “wasting” (something to do with my bowel movement) is it the effect of the ART im taking?

  3. Lisa Thorley

    Hi Jimmy,

    If your friends viral load is undetectable then there isn’t any risk. Please see here for more info:

    http://i-base.info/htb/32308

    If however, their viral load is detectable, which there is a chance it could be if they aren’t adhering to their medication, then you may want to test.

  4. Jimmy

    I am dating someone that is HIV positive, and is on ART. His viral load is undectable, but he misses his doses sometimes. Even has went a couple of days without taking it. We also have had unprotected sex a few times. What are the chances that I could have become infected with HIV?

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