Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS is one of the biggest pandemics globally that currently exist, being still to this day an incurable disease of great gravity. Suffering from AIDS is a big blow to those who suffer from it, being a condition of great seriousness in which any infection can be complicated to dangerous levels and, without treatment, even fatal.
In the absence of a cure, prevention of this disease is crucial and there is a wealth of information available on AIDS and human immunodeficiency virus infection (which causes it).
But even though there are great prevention campaigns, many people just don’t know what it is or don’t understand the emotional suffering of those who suffer from it. What is this disease and how do people with AIDS experience their disease? How to treat this disease? We will talk about it as follows.
Symptoms of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
It is called Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS in the late stage of human immunodeficiency virus or HIV infection, being a very serious syndrome that occurs when the immune system has been virtually destroyed and ceases to be able to cope with infections. Specifically, those who suffer from it have a number of T lymphocytes (especially CD4 +) less than 200 per cubic millimeter of blood, which is insufficient to protect the body against opportunistic infections or certain cancers (some of which increase the possibility appearance).
Although HIV infection by itself may not cause symptoms, if the infection leads to AIDS, it is often common to experience sudden and rapid weight loss, fatigue on exertion, headache. head, fever, swelling in the lymph nodes, diarrhea which may last for a month. , Kaposi’s sarcomas (vascular tumors in the form of spots and red lesions which in fact, in many cases, can be one of the most obvious signs of AIDS).
This is all due to the impact of viruses, As well as the loss of the immune system’s ability to protect itself. In addition, there are the symptoms of opportunistic infections that can occur, such as tuberculosis (the main cause of death for those infected in African countries).
Neurological or nervous disorders, such as motor slowdown, tingling, or loss of muscle tone, are also common. In some cases cognitive impairment and emotional and behavioral problems also appear, And can even occasionally cause rapid dementia in which the patient quickly loses his faculties until his death a few months later.
All this without taking into account the profound emotional impact of receiving the diagnosis, which often generates panic and anxiety and can easily lead to depression. The person with AIDS may constantly feel threatened and in danger, To have a feeling of lack of control over the situation, of hopelessness, of guilt and of fear of one’s future. In some cases, suicidal thoughts and attempts may even appear.
On top of that, you have to deal with a potentially life-threatening situation that this will generate the need to change lifestyle, Such as taking medications or other self-management strategies. Finally, it can also lead to the loss of your partner, your job, or even travel restrictions.
It is important to keep in mind that, fortunately today, AIDS is a syndrome that does not necessarily have to appear in people infected with HIV, existing treatments, although they do not cure the infection, can control them. However, in the absence of proper treatment, most people will develop it.
In addition, when there is no treatment (especially in countries with poor health systems, such as poor parts of Africa), AIDS can lead to death within a few years of its onset, which can lead to death. in fact a problem that it is still very serious and causes death. millions of people even today (although this is not so common in Western society).
How do people with AIDS suffer? contagion
AIDS is, as we have said, a syndrome which occurs in the final and most severe stages of HIV infection, the latter being the cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. This infection it reaches the human body through contact between mucous membranes and infected fluids, Mainly blood and sexual fluids. Breast milk can also cause the virus to be transmitted. Other fluids such as saliva, stools, mucus, vomit, or urine have a very low or no viral load.
Thus, infection usually occurs through the maintenance of unprotected sex in which the mucous membranes come into contact or through the shared use of syringes in drug addicts or razor blades. It was once transmitted by blood transfusion, although today it is not likely.
It could also spread from mother to child in the case of pregnant women, At the time of childbirth or while breastfeeding. However, casual contact, hugging, kissing, sharing cutlery or glasses, using the same toilet, or swimming in the same pool are not methods of infection.
It is important to note that what is contagious is the HIV virus, not the AIDS itself. From the moment of infection, the condition will worsen gradually, spreading the virus throughout the body and increasing the viral load at the same time as it destroys the lymphocytes and the immune system.
Among other things, there is a decrease in lymphoids (which generate lymphocytes) for example in the digestive tract. At first it is common for no symptoms to appear, although in the long term and if you get AIDS the above problems may appear.
Treatment of this disease
AIDS is a serious disease that without treatment can lead to death within a few years. But while it is still a very serious disease in areas with sufficient health status, there are treatments that dramatically increase the survival rate even when HIV leads to AIDS, and it is not. not a death sentence like before (although it is still a serious illness).
The first treatment to be considered is pharmacological treatment, being like in the other phases of the infection the taking of antiretrovirals necessary to maintain the rest of the immune system, by slightly increasing the levels of lymphocytes and by decreasing the viral load. time that decreases the possibility of suffering from other infections, improving both life expectancy and quality of life. It is used for this treatment that includes several antiretrovirals, such as zidovudine or tenofovir.
However, it is likely that this treatment can cause immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome, an inflammatory type disorder which does not, however, preclude treatment.
Since in AIDS most of the immune system has already lost its ability to defend itself, it is essential to carry out regular checks (every six months or a year) and use preventive measures prevent as much as possible the arrival of opportunistic infections, as well as control the possible emergence of tumors (more frequent and more dangerous in the case of AIDS). In addition, measures should be taken to prevent possible damage to the bones, liver and kidneys, and to control and encourage diet and avoid drugs and alcohol.
Psychological care for people with AIDS
People with AIDS suffer from one of the most dreaded diseases in the world, which undoubtedly and as we have already said can lead to a number of serious emotional and cognitive complications that can even worsen their illness. health. In this way, people affected by this disease may require a psychological treatment.
The first thing to consider in these cases is that the subject is faced with a very distressing situation, requiring emotional restraint and the ability to express their fears, doubts and thoughts in an environment where they do not feel judged and which generates enough self-confidence. You will also need it, especially in the event of an unexpected diagnosis (for example a case which has not known the fact of being infected until this moment), psychoeducational guidelines to understand what is happening to him and what preventive measures he needs. should take.
It is essential to work on adherence to antiretroviral treatment, as well as, to the extent possible, the prevention of drug addiction and risky practices.
It is not uncommon for some people living with HIV or AIDS to think that because they already have the infection they may have unprotected sex with others with the same disease, but the truth is is that, since there are a wide variety of strains of HIV, it could lead to secondary infections that are much more dangerous and difficult to treat. Psychoeducation is not only necessary for the patient himselfBut it can also be essential for the couple in this environment and / or in their immediate environment.
Another aspect to underline is the need to work on the meaning of AIDS for the patient, how the person experiences his state of health, the meaning it gives and how he feels about it.
In addition to this, it will also be necessary to work on the possible existence of vital barriers that the subject has raised, for example, seeking social life out of fear or isolation – provoking feelings of guilt or rejection. In this sense, it is necessary to assess the type of obstacles it has created, why and what effects they have on their lives, and then rethink the need for a change that breaks down these barriers and makes their daily lives easier.
Another notable element that cannot be worked on is the lack of perception of control, as well as sociability. Problem solving and social skills training can be essential as well as planning fun activities.
Working with the values and cognitive restructuring of maladaptive beliefs and false myths about AIDS is also very helpful, especially in cases of anxiety or depressive problems (Especially in people at risk of suicide). Another measure that can help them greatly is to turn to support groups or associations of people affected by the disease, as they facilitate the feeling of understanding and sharing their experiences in addition to being able to learn different ways. to act or live with the disease. .
- Avelar, VY; Cornejo, IB and Torres, JD (2011). Psychological effects on people of both sexes aged 20 to 50 years diagnosed with HIV between January 2006 and June 2010 belonging to the Salvadoran Foundation for the fight against AIDS “María Lorena” (CONTRASIDA) of the municipality of San Salvador . University of El Salvador. Faculty of Sciences and Humanities. Department of Psychology.
- Gulick, RM. (2016). Antiretroviral therapy for human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immunodeficiency. A: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016: chap 388.
- Vyas, JM; Zieve, D .; Conaway, B. et al. (2017). HIV / AIDS. MedlinePlus [Online]. Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/ency/article/000594.htm.