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Related Health Conditions

Living with HIV may put you at a higher risk for developing certain health conditions, including getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), getting hepatitis, heart disease and oral health problems. Learning more about these conditions, and how to prevent them, will help you maintain your health and live well, beyond HIV.

What Do I Need To Know About Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?

A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is an infection that’s passed from person to person through sexual contact (HIV is an example of an STD).

Other types of STDs include:

  • Chlamydia,
  • Genital herpes,
  • Gonorrhea,
  • Hepatitis B and C,
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV), and
  • Syphilis.

For people living with HIV, it can be harder to treat STDs. STDs increase viral load in genital fluids, and some types of STDs can lower your CD4 count. Because HIV weakens the CD4 cells in the immune system, your body has a harder time fighting off STDs. This also means that if you are living with HIV and also have an STD, you may be able to transmit HIV to your partner(s) even if the blood viral load is undetectable.

Having an STD can increase the risk of spreading your HIV. If you are also infected with another STD, you are 3 to 5 times as likely as others living with HIV to spread HIV through sexual contact. This appears to happen because there is an increased concentration of HIV in the semen and genital fluids of people who are living with HIV who also are infected with another STD.

Being tested and treated for STDs helps you maintain good health and avoid transmitting an STD unknowingly. Encourage your partner(s) to do the same. You or your partner(s) can have an STD without having symptoms. If you are sexually active, get tested at least once a year. Your health care provider can offer you the best care if you discuss your sexual history openly. CDC’s National HIV and Testing Resources Locator provides information on how to locate an STD testing facility in your area.

Should I Get Tested for Hepatitis?

Hepatitis refers to a group of infections that attack the liver. Most hepatitis infections are caused by viruses and can live in your body without causing symptoms.

The most common forms of hepatitis in the United States are:

  • Hepatitis A, which is usually spread by eating or drinking contaminated food or water, and
  • Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, which are spread through sex without condoms or by sharing needles or drug works.

People living with HIV should get tested for all forms of hepatitis and be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B (there is no vaccine for hepatitis C at this time). Hepatitis causes serious health problems that can complicate your HIV care, so it is important to know whether you are infected.

If you have hepatitis, HIV can cause it to get worse and can increase your chances of developing life-threatening liver damage. If you are living with HIV and hepatitis, avoid drinking alcohol to protect your liver from further damage and talk to your health care provider about treatment options.

About 1 in 4 people living with HIV are also infected with hepatitis C. If you have both HIV and hepatitis C, you are at greater risk of experiencing serious liver damage. Your health care provider can work with you to explain treatment options and manage any problems that might occur. Therefore, it is important to take both your HIV medicines and your hepatitis C medicines as prescribed by your health care provider. More information on living with HIV and hepatitis C is available from CDC.

How Can I Protect My Heart Health?

Heart disease is the leading cause of adult death in the United States. Many factors can increase your chances of developing heart disease, including your age, being overweight, smoking and alcohol use, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and having diabetes.

You can reduce your risk of heart disease by:

  • Keeping your blood pressure at normal levels,
  • Watching your cholesterol levels,
  • Not smoking,
  • Eating healthy foods low in salt and fat,
  • Staying physically active and maintaining a healthy body weight, and
  • Taking medicines to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

It is important to discuss heart disease with your health care provider to determine your overall physical health and your risk of heart disease. If you are taking antiretroviral therapy (ART), you may be at a greater risk for developing heart disease, because HIV medicines can raise the levels of cholesterol and fat in the blood.

Although you may have concerns about heart disease, you should continue taking your HIV treatment as prescribed. Studies have shown that stopping and starting ART can cause problems for your heart’s health and put you in danger of allowing more HIV to reproduce in your body. You and your health care provider can work together to select HIV medicines that control your HIV and minimize your risk for heart disease.

What Oral Health Issues Should I Be Concerned About?

If you are living with HIV, even minor oral health problems can develop into serious health issues. Common oral health conditions and diseases that people living with HIV experience include:

  • Dental caries (cavities): Tooth decay caused by bacteria in the mouth. Common symptoms include pain or tingling and visible holes in the teeth.
  • Dry mouth: A condition of not having enough saliva, or spit, to keep the mouth wet. When dry mouth persists, it can make chewing, eating, swallowing, and even talking difficult. Dry mouth also increases the risk for tooth decay because saliva helps keep harmful germs that cause cavities and other oral infections in check.
  • Periodontal disease: A disease that results from infections and swelling of the gums and bone that surround and support the teeth. In its early stage, called “gingivitis,” the gums can become swollen and red, and they may bleed. In its more serious form, called periodontitis, the gums can pull away from the tooth, bone can be lost, and the teeth may get loose or even fall out.
  • Oral Candidiasis (thrush): A fungal infection that occurs when too much yeast grows in the mouth. The most common symptom of this condition is white patches on your mouth, tongue, and inner cheeks.
  • Oral Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): A virus that can infect the mouth and throat. Some types of oral HPV (known as “high-risk types”) can cause cancers of the head and neck area. Other types of oral HPV (known as “low-risk types”) can cause warts in the mouth or throat. In most cases, HPV infections of all types go away before they cause any health problems.

It is very important that you maintain good oral health and get regular dental checkups. If you have oral or dental problems, visit a dentist immediately so that he or she can evaluate, treat, and monitor your oral health.