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    HIV Life Expectancy: How Long Can You Live with HIV or AIDS?

    Published 30 April 2020
    Fact Checked
    Olga Adereyko, MD
    Reviewed by Olga Adereyko, MD, Primary Care Physician, General Practitioner, Medical Consultant
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    The most frequently asked question for HIV-positive patients is “how long can you live with HIV?” Fortunately, the answer is far more promising than it was 20 years ago. Join Flo as we discuss how advancements in medical technology have altered the prognosis for those living with HIV or AIDS.

    A national database containing statistics from 25 states shows that the average HIV life expectancy has more than doubled between 1996 and 2005. The bump from 10.5 to 22.5 years after diagnosis can be attributed to vast improvements in drug therapy and related approaches. However, experts still say this is only an average, and plenty of other circumstances must be taken into account regarding HIV life expectancy. 

    Calculating life expectancy with HIV or AIDs

    Recent research shows that a young person with HIV or AIDS could potentially live almost as long as anyone else in the general population. But this is only the case if they have routine access to health care and respond well to modern antiretroviral treatments (ARTs). So a 20-year-old who starts on ARTs today, for example, might eventually live to be 67. 

    Keep in mind though, since there is no known cure, HIV life expectancy varies greatly from one individual to the next based on many things. This includes early detection; plus, gender and lifestyle choices such as alcohol, tobacco, or drug use.   

    Over the past two decades, HIV life expectancy has drastically risen. What was once considered a terminal illness is now a medically manageable condition at any age. Those who abuse intravenous (IV) drugs or possess a preexisting immune disorder, however, do not fare as well.  

    In light of huge disparities in access to health care and ARTs, the CDC regularly publishes reports on obstacles to HIV and AIDS treatment. By 2016, it was estimated that 1.1 million people in the U.S., aged 13 or older, had HIV (14 percent of whom were undiagnosed). 

    Additional CDC data points to the prevalence of HIV among individuals at or below federally established poverty levels. Even beneficiaries of disability payments for advanced HIV or AIDS are limited in their earning capacity due to income caps imposed by government programs. The same report further highlighted education level and employment status as contributing factors to HIV and AIDS vulnerability.

    AIDS or HIV life expectancy without medication

    How long can you live with HIV or AIDS if you chose not to treat with ART combinations or other prescription drugs? In the absence of such therapy, a patient should expect to see a notable decrease in life expectancy. 

    In countries where health care and ARTs aren’t readily accessible, HIV rates (in individuals aged 15 to 49) are above 20 percent. Shorter HIV life expectancy in these regions, combined with a high incidence of AIDS in younger age groups, boosts their overall mortality rate. 

    Population studies proved that AIDS patients who did not take HIV medications survived for roughly three years. Once they developed a dangerous opportunistic illness, life expectancy with AIDS (in the absence of treatment) decreased to one year or less. 

    That’s why HIV and AIDS remain a serious threat to public health, and why early detection is absolutely critical to long-term survival.

    6 habits to improve life expectancy with HIV or AIDs

    Thanks to the continuing evolution of modern medicine, it’s still possible to lead a happy and fulfilling life with HIV or AIDS by:

    1. Staying physically and mentally active

    Staying physically and mentally active helps to improve life expectancy with HIV or AIDs

    Socializing with friends, reading, listening to music, and engaging in your favorite hobbies helps battle depression and the loss of brain function. Don’t be afraid to try something different, which might offer a chance to forge new relationships and serve as a source of personal enjoyment.

    2. Taking prescribed medications

    Early intervention with ARTs goes a long way towards tackling the debilitating symptoms of HIV and AIDS. Beginning a treatment regimen is the first step in creating a positive care plan and should include strategies for protecting your immune system. Since numerous ART options exist to manage the virus, consult your health care provider about tailoring a drug plan to your unique symptoms. 

    Be sure to take drugs exactly as prescribed and keep all office appointments. Consistency is key, so this might mean administering meds at the same time every day. If you deviate from the care plan (e.g., skipping doses, taking doses at random times), it may compromise your immune response. 

    3. Eating a healthy, customized diet

    While eating right is beneficial to everyone, it’s absolutely essential for HIV and AIDS patients, regardless of what stage they’re in. The drugs prescribed to combat the virus often upset the digestive system, causing additional issues, such as:

    • Changes in metabolism
    • Upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
    • Oral infection (or candidiasis)
    • Cancer (or Kaposi sarcoma)

    Any of the above conditions may prevent the body from absorbing vital nutrients, as well as ARTs. Remember to avoid foods that raise the chances of infection like uncooked meats and raw fish. Note that a well-tailored diet is capable of:

    • Raising energy levels with essential vitamins and minerals 
    • Managing HIV symptoms and complications
    • Maintaining a healthy weight
    • Enhancing absorption of medications
    • Decreasing drug-re