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Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS): Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. This makes it hard for the body to fight infection and disease. HIV causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the last and most severe stage of the HIV infection.

HIV attacks and destroys a type of white blood cell called CD4+ cells, or helper cells. These cells are an important part of the immune system.

You have AIDS when one or both of the following are true:

  • Your CD4+ cell count is below 200 cells per microlitre (µL) of blood.
  • You get certain infections or cancers that are usually only seen in people who have problems with their immune system.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Get the vaccines and medicine you need to prevent infections such as pneumonia or tuberculosis.
  • Learn more about HIV and AIDS so you can be active in your health care decisions.
  • Join a support group. These let you share experiences and seek support from others in the same situation.
  • Do not smoke. People with HIV have an increased risk of heart attacks and lung cancer. Smoking increases these risks even more. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Do not use illegal drugs. And limit your use of alcohol.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. This keeps your immune system as strong as possible.
  • Exercise regularly. It can reduce your stress, increase your energy, and lift your mood.
  • If you have not already done so, prepare an advance care plan. This tells your doctor and family members what kind of care you want if you become unable to speak for yourself.

Helping a partner with AIDS

If your partner has AIDS, you can help provide emotional, physical, and medical care that will improve his or her quality of life.

  • Give emotional support. Listen to and encourage your partner.
  • Protect yourself and others against HIV infection and other infections by:
    • Not sharing needles.
    • Always using condoms during sex.
  • Protect your partner by staying away from him or her when you are sick.
  • Take care of yourself. Share your experiences with others and get help when you need it.
  • Learn how to give medicines, and know where to get help in an emergency.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe shortness of breath.
  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of a new or worse problem from HIV, such as:
    • A fever.
    • Coughing.
    • Diarrhea.
    • Skin changes.
    • Bleeding.
    • Confusion or not thinking clearly.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.