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Living with HIV? Check out the patient's guide to HIV

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome


AIDS is the final stage of HIV. HIV kills a type of white blood cell called CD4 cells, which weakens your immune system. Your immune system becomes too weak to fight infections. A weak immune system can also lead to certain cancers and heart disease. A normal CD4 count ranges from 500 to 2000. When you have HIV, your CD4 count ranges from 200 to 500. You have AIDS when your CD4 count is less than 200 or you have one of the infections or cancers caused by AIDS.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • HAART medicines can cause many side effects, including liver failure, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Some may raise your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. HAART medicines may not work, especially if you do not take them as directed. They may interact with other medicines you take and cause those medicines to fail. You may have active infections such as tuberculosis or hepatitis. Loss of bone density can lead to broken bones. You may develop numbness, tingling, or burning pain in your legs and feet. You may lose the ability to walk and to control when you urinate. You have a higher risk for food poisoning.

  • Even with treatment, your CD4 count may continue to drop. This means your immune system cannot fight off infections and disease, and this will lead to death.


You or a close family member will be asked to sign a legal document called a consent form. It gives caregivers permission to do the procedure or surgery. It also explains the problems that may happen, and your choices. Make sure all your questions are answered before you sign this form.


  • Vital signs: Caregivers will check your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature. They will also ask about your pain. These vital signs give caregivers information about your current health.

  • Pulse oximeter: A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. A cord with a clip or sticky strip is placed on your finger, ear, or toe. The other end of the cord is hooked to a machine. Never turn the pulse oximeter or alarm off. An alarm will sound if your oxygen level is low or cannot be read.

  • Heart monitor: This is also called an ECG or EKG. Sticky pads placed on your skin record your heart's electrical activity.


  • HIV blood tests: Your healthcare provider will test the CD4 cell count in your blood. A normal CD4 count ranges from above 500 to 2000. If your CD4 count is lower than 200, you have AIDS. He will also use blood tests to find out your viral load. This is the amount of HIV in your blood at any given time. Your healthcare provider will also test your blood for cancer.

  • Tests for infections: You will need tests for common active or opportunistic infections. These are illnesses that can be very dangerous for those with HIV or AIDS. They include toxoplasmosis and tuberculosis. You may be tested for other infections such as pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) if you show signs. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about these illnesses.


  • Antiretroviral medications: These medications slow the progression of HIV. They are given in different combinations called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Your healthcare provider will decide what kind of HAART you need. You may need to make HAART changes if you have severe side effects, or if you develop resistance to a medicine.

  • Antimicrobial medicines: These are given to kill infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungus.

  • Antinausea medicine: This medicine may be given to calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.


  • An IV is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.

  • Reverse isolation: You may be put on reverse isolation safety measures if your body is having a hard time fighting infections. You are given a private room to protect you from other people's germs. Caregivers and visitors may wear gloves, a face mask, or a gown to keep their germs away from you. Everyone should wash their hands when entering and leaving your room.

  • You may need extra oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Inpatient Care)