Avoiding or Managing Chronic Health Conditions

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Staying in care and having regular health care appointments and exams helps to avoid chronic health conditions by detecting risk factors early. In addition, tending to your mental health helps to manage stress and conditions such as depression and anxiety.

According to the National Institutes of Health, PLWH have an increased risk of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases (ASCVD). The most important cardiovascular disease prevention strategy is to start and adhere to an antiretroviral (ART) regimen as early as possible. This action will minimize inflammation-induced damage that may lead to ASCVD.

Physicians recommend ongoing monitoring of blood pressure and blood lipids, as well as taking medications and making diet or lifestyle changes to reduce blood pressure and low-density cholesterol. You are encouraged to avoid tobacco, engage in physical activity, and follow a diet with low intake of refined sugar, processed foods, carbohydrates, and sodium.

Cancer is the leading non-AIDS cause of death worldwide among PLWH. Common cancers in PLWH can be AIDS-defining (meaning if an HIV-positive person has it, they also have AIDS), such as Karposi’s sarcoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and cervical cancer, or non-AIDS-defining, such as lung, anal and liver cancers.

One reason for this increased risk is the immunosuppression that comes with low CD4 T-cell counts; in these cases, the immune system fails to seek out and destroy early cancer occurrences. Regular cancer screenings are essential: colon and oral cancer screenings for all, testicular and prostate for men, and breast and cervical for women. Individuals with cancer histories in their family may consider genetic testing.

PLWH have a slightly higher risk of contracting diabetes – although HIV treatment decreases inflammation levels, low levels of chronic inflammation may persist, putting PLWH at greater risk for diabetes. If diabetes is poorly managed, chronic kidney disease can emerge due to excess glucose in the vascular system.

BIPOC in particular experience worse diabetes-related health outcomes compared to the White population; racism and other social determinants can also negatively affect diabetes-related conditions by causing chronic stress and health care inequities.

Physicians recommend that individuals at risk for developing diabetes eat a low-carbohydrate diet and exercise regularly.

This page’s content was adapted from information found on hiv.gov and nih.gov.