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HIV and AIDS: psychological effects of this disease

HIV and AIDS: psychological effects of this disease

July 19, 2024

HIV and AIDS: these two words refer to a painful reality very present in our lives. HIV infection and its evolution towards AIDS is along with cancer and dementias one of the serious diseases for which even today science has not found a cure.

In the case of HIV, in addition to the effects of the disease itself, we find that supposes a powerful social stigma . And the fact is that the detection of the human immunodeficiency virus and the idea of ​​suffering and living with AIDS are a serious blow that can cause serious psychological problems.

This article aims to reflect the difficulties for which the person with HIV can pass on a psychological level , especially in the first moments.

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HIV and AIDS: what are they?

Before going into detail regarding the psychological effects of their detection and suffering, it is important to bear in mind that, although linked, HIV and AIDS are not synonyms .

The acronym HIV refers to the human immunodeficiency virus, a retrovirus that affects the human immune system and causes a progressive deterioration of it as it multiplies and destroys the lymphocytes (cells of the immune system) of said system. People with HIV they are known as seropositive , and can last up to ten years without obvious symptoms.

AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome refers to the most advanced stages of this disease, in which HIV has caused the immune system is unable to respond adequately to infections. These infections are called opportunistic.

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Infection and infection

The forms of transmission of this disease, known today by a large majority of the population, are through contact between different types of mucous membranes and fluids, such as semen, vaginal fluids and blood.

Specifically, The most common form of contagion is through unprotected sexual contact (be it vaginal or anal), followed by infection through blood contact when sharing needles or razor blades. The mother-child infection can also occur in pregnant women who do not follow any treatment, both during delivery and during breastfeeding.

On the sexual level, it should also be taken into account that some affected people believe that due to their condition they can have unprotected sexual relations with other people with HIV. It is important to note that this is not correct, since this virus is highly mutable and there are multiple strains , so that a person infected by one type of strain can be infected with others and produce a superinfection by HIV.

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Take the test

We have a sexual relationship without protection or we prick our feet with a syringe lying in a park. Perhaps it was an oversight, or perhaps the subject believed that his sexual partner seemed healthy and did not have any type of infection. It is also possible that we have suffered sexual assault. After the experience of the high-risk practice, the worry may arise because the person in question was seropositive, and with the uncertainty may appear panic and anxiety.

The next step would be to take the test. It is a fundamental aspect and of great importance when it comes to power start antiretroviral treatment as soon as possible and at the same time prevent infections . But many people fear and even avoid being tested for fear that they can test positive.

This supposes a serious damage for them in all the scopes, since in case of being affected delays the treatment of this disease it facilitates that it is possible to get to infect other people and at the same time the doubt is settled on its possible suffering, what to It will generate a deep and continuous level of frustration, anxiety and fear.

Problems in detection

It must be taken into account that there is a window period in which the tests are not reliable , being able to give negative in spite of suffering the infection. This is because the immune system has not yet developed antibodies against the virus, at which time seroconversion occurs. This period is generally between three and six months, although it can be prolonged depending on the case (for example, in patients undergoing chemo or radiotherapy).

However, many people do not realize the risk they run or do not believe they can get infected by not perceiving obvious symptoms in them or in their sexual partners. This can cause that the subject is not treated and even that can infect others by not knowing their serological status.

Thus it is essential to raise awareness among the population (especially the high risk) of the need to do it at least once a year, and facilitate that they can be done safely. In this sense there are many organizations that have rapid tests and knowledge in this regard that can be of great help.

The diagnosis and the subsequent moments

The moment of communication of the diagnosis is one of the most difficult, and in it it can be of great importance to have counseling and guidance services in the services that are in charge of doing the test. The notification of this fact is a serious blow to and can cause a severe shock for the patient, whose reactions can range from panic attack to the absence of an immediate reaction.

The main thing at this moment is to offer emotional support , at the same time as providing information regarding what the infection entails and means, teaching preventive and self-management measures and motivating the subject to adhere to the treatment.

Also, another factor of great difficulty for the person diagnosed is given at the time of communicate the fact to their environment and to possible sexual partners I had recently. In fact, many subjects hide their state and lock themselves in without seeking any kind of help or emotional support. It is not uncommon for there to be adaptive syndromes, acute stress disorder or even post-traumatic stress disorder.

As with other serious chronic diseases, it is likely that the subject experiences a grief, with a period of initial denial, anger, negotiation, resignation and acceptance of the fact. In some cases these people may have suicidal thoughts and even true suicide attempts, which makes psychological and environmental support essential. The participation and assistance to support groups, problem solving training and various psychological and relaxation techniques.

Living with HIV: psychological effects

HIV infection is a chronic problem that currently has no cure and is a major health problem worldwide. Fortunately, despite having no cure, medical advances and antiretroviral treatment have meant that in those cases that are treated, the disease has gone from being mortal in a few years to being able to control itself and become a chronic disease.

However, its detection is a serious blow for those who suffer from it and the existence of a large number of changes in the lives of patients, who in addition to the disease itself, usually experience different disorders such as depression, panic attacks and anxiety as a consequence of the knowledge of suffering from this condition.

Somatic symptoms are also likely to occur due to anxiety, that people may come to relate to their condition. It is not uncommon for them to be distracted, irritable or feeling guilty about being infected. Self-esteem can decrease to a great extent, just as it is not strange that anhedonia, a feeling of emptiness and fear is present.

At the social level it is not strange that the subject tends to withdraw and isolate himself , both due to their emotional state and the fear of infecting third parties. In the same way, HIV supposes a stigma that can cause other people to avoid contact with the subject or that he / she considers that he / she will be rejected by his or her environment, and there will be serious social and labor damages.

At the sexual and affective level, there is also an important inhibition, even when there is a stable partner who knows the seropositivity of the subject and protection mechanisms are used. All this enhances the presence of affective alterations , which in turn is harmful given that stress decreases the performance of the immune system.

Also keep in mind that maintenance of treatment is essential and lifelong, although it can cause side effects. In addition to the subject himself, he must also prepare himself for the environment and offer advice and guidance.

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The aforementioned aspects refer to different problems that people who detect HIV may have when diagnosed due to the knowledge of the disease itself, especially in the first moments. But Being diagnosed with this disease does not mean living an unhappy life . The person with HIV today can have a normal, long and full life.

Bibliographic references:

  • Avelar, V.Y .; Cornejo, I.B. and Torres, J.D. (2011). Psychological effects in people of both sexes between the ages of 20 to 50 years diagnosed with HIV in the period from January 2006 to June 2010 pertaining to the Salvadoran foundation for the fight against AIDS "María Lorena" (CONTRASIDA) of the municipality of San Salvador. El Salvador University. Faculty of Sciences and Humanities. Department of Psychology
  • Prieto, F .; Casaña, S .; Ibarguchi, L. and Pérez, S. (2007) Psychological effects of people affected by HIV-AIDS: Lines of action. Positive Support Association.

Rebecca Stoeckle: Long term HIV survivors - sharing hard truths (July 2024).

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