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Today, thousands of people are living with HIV/AIDS, many of them leading full, happy, and productive lives despite the diagnosis they have. You can do it too if you work with your doctor and others.

It is also important to take the steps outlined in available booklets to stay healthy even though you are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

Basic information on HIV/AIDS

AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is a condition in which the body’s immune system breaks down. After this, the organism becomes unable to fight off infection. The cause of AIDS is a virus called HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus. When a person is infected with HIV, the virus enters the body. It lives and multiplies primarily in the white blood cells, very important cells that normally protect us from disease. The HIV virus weakens the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to infections and other illnesses, ranging from pneumonia to cancer. The virus spreads when HIV-infected fluids of one person pass into the body of another person. Infection can occur through unprotected anal, vaginal, or oral sex. Beside this, infection through use of contaminated needles, syringes and other piercing instruments is also common. Moreover, it is possible to transmit the infection from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breast-feeding. Some people fear that HIV might transmit in other ways such as through air, water, or insect bites. However, there is no scientific evidence to support any of these fears.

Dealing with HIV

If you are living with HIV or AIDS, you may need many kinds of support, including of course medical, emotional, psychological, and financial support. Your doctor, your local health and social services departments, local AIDS service organizations, and libraries can help you find all kinds of help. Many people living with HIV feel better if they can talk with other people who also have HIV/AIDS.
There are some ways to find support such as contact your local AIDS service organization. You could also read HIV newsletters or magazines, join support groups or Internet forums, and volunteer to help others with HIV. You could also be an HIV educator or public speaker, or work on a newsletter. Try to attend social events to meet other people who have HIV.

HIV-related mental health problems

Mental health problems can affect anybody, but people with HIV are more likely to experience a range of mental health issues. The more common ones include feelings of acute emotional distress, depression, and anxiety. These disorders can often accompany adverse life-events. HIV can also directly infect the brain causing impairment to memory and thinking; beside this, some anti-HIV medications can have mental health side effects.
HIV infection and AIDS affect all aspects of a person’s life. People with HIV/AIDS must adapt to a chronic, life-threatening illness and corresponding physical and mental challenges they might have. In addition, they often face a myriad of emotional demands ranging from stress, anger and grief to helplessness, depression, and cognitive disorders so if you have concerns about your own or a loved one’s mood, memory, thinking process, or other mental problems associated with HIV, discuss them with your doctor or counselor. Treatments are available and can greatly improve the quality of life. Comprehensive and compassionate care neables many mental health challenges to be  overcome with support, counseling and understanding.

Emotional distress

Receiving an HIV diagnosis can produce strong emotional reactions as well. Initial feelings of shock and denial can sometimes turn to fear, guilt, anger, sadness, and a sense of hopelessness. Some people with HIV/AIDS even have suicidal thoughts. It is understandable that one might feel helpless or fear illness, disability, and even death.
Support from family and friends can be very helpful at these times. It is the same as professional help. It is important for people with HIV to talk about their feelings with others. Physicians, including psychiatrists, as well as knowledgeable and supportive friends and loved ones can help very much in dealing with this disease. Remember that any strong and lasting reactions call for some kind of assistance, and that there is always help available through counseling.

Depression

Depression is a serious condition that affects thoughts, feelings, and the ability to function in daily life, and it is twice as common in people with HIV as in the general population. Depression brings up the symptoms such as low mood, apathy, fatigue, inability to concentrate, loss of pleasure in activities, changes in appetite and weight. It also brings troubles with sleeping, thoughts of suicide and low self-worth,. There are many different types of treatments for depression - antidepressants, specific types of psychotherapy, or just a talk therapy. A physician or a mental health professional must carefully choose a treatment based on the patient’s physical and mental condition.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of panic or apprehension. It often goes together with physical symptoms such as sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heart beat, agitation, nervousness, headaches and panic. Anxiety can accompany depression or occur as a disorder by itself, often caused by circumstances resulting in fear, uncertainty or insecurity. Each person with HIV and each experience of anxiety feels unique. The treatment must work that way as well. Many drugs offer effective treatment, and many alternative remedies have proven useful alone or in combination with some other medication. Among them are bodywork, acupuncture, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, aerobic exercise, and supportive group therapy.

Substance use

Substance use is common among people with HIV infection and unfortunately, substance use can trigger and often complicate mental health problems. For many HIV/AIDS positive people, mental health problems predate substance use activity. Substance use can increase levels of distress, interfere with treatment adherence, and lead to impairment in thinking and memory as consequence of its usage. Diagnosis and treatment by a psychiatrist or other qualified physician is critical, as symptoms can mimic psychiatric disorders and other mental health problems of the patient.

Cognitive Disorders

Direct or indirect effects of the HIV virus can affect brain functioning, as well as some medications used to treat HIV infection. These medicines can also cause similar complications. In people with HIV infection or AIDS, these complications can have a significant impact on daily functioning and greatly diminish the quality of their life. Among the most common disorders are HIV-associated minor cognitive motor disorder, HIV-associated dementia, delirium, and psychosis conditions. Signs of trouble may include forgetfulness, confusion, attention deficits, slurred or changed speech, and sudden changes in mood or behavior. You could also experience difficulty walking, muscle weakness, slowed thinking and difficulty finding words. People with HIV who have any of these problems should discuss their concerns with their doctor immediately. New anti-HIV therapies in combination with psychiatric medication can reverse delirium and dementia and markedly improve cognition. However, these people should receive special care to ensure that the drugs do not interact with HIV medications. Psychotherapy can also help patients understand their condition and adapt to their diminished level of organism functioning.

Treatment of HIV/AIDS

When AIDS first surfaced in the United States, there were no medicines to combat the underlying immune deficiency. In addition, few treatments existed for the opportunistic diseases that resulted. Researchers, however, have developed drugs to fight both HIV infection and its associated infections and cancers. The Food and Drug Administration has approved a number of drugs for treating HIV infection. The first group of drugs used to treat HIV infection were nucleoside reverse transcriptase (RT) inhibitors. These drugs interrupt an early stage of the virus making copies of it. These drugs may slow the spread of HIV in the body and delay the start of opportunistic infections; this class of drugs, called nucleoside analogs, includes Azidothymidine, Zalcitabine, Dideoxyinosine, Stavudine, Lamivudine, Ziagen, Viread and Emtricitabine. Health care providers can prescribe non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors such as Delavridine, Nevirapine, or Efravirenz in combination with other antiretroviral drugs.

FDA also has approved a second class of drugs for treating HIV infection called protease inhibitors. These drugs interrupt the virus making copies of itself at a later stage of its life cycle; these include Ritonavir or Norvir, Saquinivir or Invirase, Indinavir or Crixivan, Amprenivir or Agenerase, etc.
FDA also has introduced a third new class of drugs, known as fusion inhibitors, to treat HIV infection. Fuzeon, the first approved fusion inhibitor, works by interfering with HIV-1’s ability to enter into cells by blocking the merging of the virus with the cell membranes. This inhibition blocks HIV’s ability to enter and infect the human immune cells. However, it is the best to talk to your doctor about the best treatment you could have to treat this condition.