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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 4, 2024.

What is AIDS, and how does it differ from HIV?

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the final stage of HIV infection. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a viral infection that slowly weakens your immune system. The virus kills a type of white blood cell called CD4. The loss of CD4 cells weakens your immune system. Over time, a weak immune system makes it difficult for you to fight infections. This can also lead to certain cancers and heart disease. A normal CD4 count ranges from 500 to 2,000. You have HIV when 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. AIDS means your immune system cannot fight off infections and disease. This can become life-threatening.

What are the signs and symptoms of AIDS?

The following signs and symptoms are common when you have AIDS or infections or cancer caused by AIDS:

How is AIDS diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your signs and symptoms. Your provider will check your height and weight and examine your skin, mouth, and eyes. You may be asked questions about your sexual history and if you have ever used illegal drugs. Your provider will ask these questions to find out how you became infected with HIV and who else may be at risk.

What illnesses might I develop because I have AIDS?

As your CD4 count drops, you are at risk for many types of cancer and opportunistic infections. These are illnesses that develop because your immune system cannot fight the bacteria or viruses that cause them. Infections that are common when your CD4 count drops below 200 are Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), toxoplasmosis, and histoplasmosis. You may develop other infections such as cytomegalovirus, cryptococcal meningitis, or Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC). You may develop cancers such as Kaposi sarcoma or central nervous system lymphoma.

How is AIDS treated?

There is no cure for HIV or AIDS. The goals are to manage your pain, treat your symptoms, extend your life, and improve your quality of life. Treatment is based on how long you have had HIV or AIDS, your age, and your current health. You may need any of the following:

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What can I do to care for myself at home?

What can I do to prevent the spread of HIV?

Tell your sex partners of your HIV status. Do not have sex without a latex condom. If you inject drugs, do not share needles or syringes. Use a needle exchange program to obtain clean needles. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you need help to stop injecting drugs.

Where can I find support and more information?

When should I seek immediate care?

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Care Agreement

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 healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.