Dr. M. J. Bazos, MD Patient Handout

About Your Diagnosis
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is a failure of the body’s immune system. It leaves the body with an inability to fight infection or to suppress the growth of abnormal cells, such as cancer. The disease affects the white blood cells and the cells of the bone marrow, liver, spleen and lymph glands. As of the end of 1996, an estimated 22.6 million individuals worldwide were living with AIDS. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The virus can be transmitted from an infected mother to her unborn child; through sexual intercourse; through the use of contaminated needles by intravenous drug users; and from a transfusion of blood or blood products from an infected individual. It is not spread by casual contact. There is no cure, but new medications can relieve and control the symptoms.

Living With Your Diagnosis
Signs and symptoms of the disease include fever, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, chronic respiratory and skin infections, swollen lymph glands, diarrhea, night sweats, headaches, and muscle weakness. As the disease progresses, it leaves the body more prone to other infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, and cancer.

Current treatment includes a strict regimen of medications. Combinations of antiviral gents and protease inhibitors are showing great promise. Common side effects of the drugs are anemia, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, headache, and insomnia. Antibiotics may be needed if other infections are present.

The DOs
• Take your medications as directed. Doses must not be skipped.
• Follow a well-balanced diet to maintain a stable body weight. Loss of appetite is common, as is nausea from the disease or the medication, so it is best to eat small, frequent meals and to avoid fried and acidic foods. Most individuals can tolerate the “BRAT” diet when nauseated—bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
• Participate in your treatment and care decisions.
• Normal exercise and activity are unrestricted depending on the patient’s tolerance. Do try to schedule rest periods as needed.
• Contact local social agencies about AIDS support groups.
• Practice infection control. Good hand washing is an essential first step in preventing other infections.
• Avoid others with infections such as the “flu.”

The DON’Ts
• Skip or stop your medications. If you cannot tolerate the medications, notify your doctor.
• Have unprotected sexual contact with others.
• Share needles or donate blood.
• Get pregnant, because there is a possibility that the infant will be infected with the virus.

When to Call Your Doctor
• If you have shortness of breath.
• If pain or new skin lesions develop.
• If a new cough develops.
• If visual changes occur.
• If you have increased fatigue or weakness.
• If your temperature is greater than 101°F.
• If you have difficulty staying awake or are confused.