Even though people may talk about HIV and AIDS like they are one and the same, they are not the same thing. HIV is the virus that infects a person. AIDS is the disease that later develops in people with HIV. Today, drugs make it possible for people with HIV infection to live a very long time before ever getting AIDS. How long you have the HIV infection before developing AIDS depends on a few things. Some of these things you can control, like taking your medicine on time every day. There are other things you can’t control, like the kind of HIV (called the “strain”) that you have.
Only a doctor can diagnose AIDS. It is not a diagnosis you can make yourself. You have developed AIDS if you already have HIV and:
- Your CD4+ count drops below 200 cells per cubic millimeter. (Healthy adults have CD4 counts of 800–1,000 or more.)
- You have an AIDS-defining condition, which is an illness that is very unusual in someone not infected with HIV. You can read about some of these conditions in the section on opportunistic infections (OIs).
Listed below are health problems common in people with AIDS:
- Lack of coordination
- Bad headaches
- Problems thinking and remembering things
- Loss of vision
- Coughing and shortness of breath
- Problems swallowing
- Severe and constant diarrhea
- Nausea, stomach cramps, and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Feeling very tired all the time
- Cancers of the skin or immune system