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Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS): Care Instructions


HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system. This makes it hard for the body to fight infection and disease. Medicines can reduce the amount of virus in the body and improve your health. If HIV isn't treated, it usually causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the 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 (mcL) of blood.
  • You get certain infections or cancers that are usually seen only in people who have problems with their immune system. Examples include infections such as Pneumocystis pneumonia and cancers such as Kaposi sarcoma.

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 HIV medicine exactly as directed. Talk to your doctor if you have problems such as trouble paying for your medicine or missing doses. Your doctor wants to help.
  • Take care to avoid foodborne illness. Having AIDS means you are more likely to get foodborne diseases. So learn how to handle, prepare, and store food safely.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Having AIDS increases your 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.
  • Eat healthy foods. Good nutrition can help your immune system and improve your overall health. You might work with a dietitian if you need help with eating well or if you're losing weight.
  • Be active. It helps relieve stress and helps you feel less tired. It also keeps your heart, lungs, and muscles strong. And it may help your immune system work better.
  • Learn more about HIV and AIDS. This will let you take a more active role in your care.
  • If you inject drugs, use new, clean syringes and needles every time. Don't share injection supplies with others.
  • Get the support you need.
    • Join a support group. This can be a good place to share information, problem-solving tips, and emotions.
    • If you need more support, ask your doctor to connect you with a counsellor. Counselling can help you cope with stress and stigma, and it can help if you have substance use disorder or other mental health conditions.

Helping a partner who has AIDS

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

  • Give emotional support. Listen to and encourage your partner.
  • Protect your partner by staying away from them when you are sick.
  • Learn how to give medicines, and know where to get help in an emergency.
  • Protect yourself and others from HIV and other infections.
    • Talk to your doctor about taking PreP. This can help prevent you from getting HIV.
    • Do not share needles or other injection supplies.
    • Always use condoms during sex.
  • Take care of yourself. Share your experiences with others and get help when you need it.

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 chest pain.
  • 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.