Determining the life expectancy of individuals with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) can be difficult because there are a number of factors that can affect how long an infected person will live. One of the main factors is how long it takes for the individual to develop AIDS itself. While many people consider an HIV-positive individual to be an AIDS patient, the two conditions are related, but separate. Other factors include an individual's overall level of health, lifestyle choices and treatment and education decisions.
Average Life Expectancy
An HIV-positive individual can live for a decade or more before progressing to AIDS. Once he has been diagnosed with AIDS, however, the average duration of the disease is approximately four to five years. With the availability of treatments to reduce HIV viral load and improve immune health, many people who are diagnosed early can expect to have an approximately normal life span.
An individual's lifestyle can have a major influence on how long she will live once infected with HIV. Positive lifestyle options include maintaining a balanced diet (with an increase in calories), adhering to regular exercise, keeping immunizations up-to-date, and elimination of negative influences such as cigarettes, alcohol, and recreational drugs. These steps can add several years to the life of an HIV-positive individual.
Early and Aggressive Treatment
One of the most important factors in living a long and relatively healthy life with HIV and AIDS is early diagnosis leading to prompt and aggressive treatment with antiretroviral drugs. Adhering to a strict treatment schedule helps to prevent drug tolerance, allowing the antiretroviral drugs to work at full potency to keep HIV viral counts low. Early diagnosis and treatment can add years to an HIV-positive individual's life and can make many of those extra years relatively sickness-free. Aggressive treatment can also raise the life expectancy of a patient with a later diagnosis or symptomatic presentation at the time of diagnosis.
Education plays a key part in increasing the life expectancy of individuals with HIV and AIDS. Not only can education help AIDS patients and HIV-positive individuals learn about new research and clinical trial opportunities, but education about the virus can reduce stress, which, in turn, decreases the likelihood of illness. Studies have shown that HIV-positive individuals who stay informed and up-to-date about their disease live longer and healthier lives on average than those who do not.
Confidence and positive thinking can increase life expectancy just as doubt and defeatism can lower it. Many HIV-positive individuals find their calling in HIV advocacy, a fight they typically continue into AIDS diagnosis and in many cases into death. Being part of a larger cause can help those who are still frightened about their diagnosis find purpose in their lives, ridding them of fear and doubt that could potentially lead to nonadherence to therapy. Advocacy can also help patients meet others who are living with the disease, providing examples of how to live a full and active life with a relatively normal lifespan despite HIV infection or AIDS status.