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Helpful HIV terms

“There was a lot of information. But I took a little time and educated myself about what the terms meant. And it was worth it.

Key words to help you understand HIV/AIDS

Push the play button next to a key term to hear how to pronounce it.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

A disease of the immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). When someone has HIV, it causes their CD4+ cells to drop. A person has AIDS when their CD4+ cells drop to below 200 or they develop a serious AIDS-related infection known as an opportunistic infection.

Adherence

Adherence

The act or ability to take the right amount of your medications at the same time, every day, as directed by your healthcare provider. If you miss a dose, your medications can stop working and it can lead to drug resistance.

CD4+ Cells

CD4+ Cells

Also known as T-cells, a type of white blood cell in your body that fights infections. HIV infects and kills CD4+ cells, causing the immune system to weaken. The more CD4+ cells you have, the healthier your immune system.

CD4+ Cell Count

CD4+ Cell Count

A measurement of the number of CD4+ cells in your blood that helps your healthcare provider make decisions about treatment. It also may show if your treatment is working. A normal CD4+ cell count is usually between 500 and 1400 cells/mm3.

Clinical Trial

Clinical Trial

A research study that uses human volunteers to help find new treatments for diseases and conditions.

Combination Therapy

Combination Therapy

A treatment regimen that uses two or more medications together to control HIV infection.

Dose

Dose

The amount of a medicine that should be taken during a given time.

Drug Class

Drug Class

A group of medications that have things in common and work in a similar way.

Drug-Drug Interaction

Drug-Drug Interaction

This may happen when two medications are taken together and it causes one of the medications to work differently, or not work at all. Drug-drug interactions may cause side effects that don’t usually happen with either medication alone.

Drug Resistance

Drug Resistance

When the HIV virus changes (mutates), medications become less effective and are unable to slow the advancement of HIV. This may happen even when someone is taking medications that would normally fight the infection.

Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART)

Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART)

Treatment regimens that stop or slow the HIV virus from reproducing and keep HIV disease from advancing. The usual HAART regimen combines 3 or more HIV medications from at least 2 different classes.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

The virus that causes AIDS. HIV-1 causes most HIV infections throughout the world. HIV-2 is found mostly in Africa.

Immune Response

Immune Response

When your body defends itself against a foreign invader, such as a virus or bacteria.

Immune System

Immune System

The group of cells and organs whose job is to protect your body from infections.

Mutation

Mutation

A change in a virus that can be passed down to future generations of the virus. This changed virus can then become resistant to different HIV medications.

Opportunistic Infection (OI)

Opportunistic Infection (OI)

Infection that takes advantage of weakness in the immune system and may cause serious illnesses.

Pill Burden

Pill Burden

The number of pills taken in an HIV treatment regimen.

Protease Inhibitors (PIs)

Protease Inhibitors (PIs)

PIs belong to a class of HIV medications that prevents new copies of HIV from being produced. PIs block a protein called protease. Without protease, HIV can’t make copies of itself and infect more cells in the body.

Side Effect

Side Effect

When a medication causes a reaction in the body that it is not meant to cause. It’s usually a feeling or condition that you don’t want, such as headache, skin irritation, or liver damage.

T-cell

T-cell

See CD4+ Cells.

Tolerability

Tolerability

Refers to a person’s ability to take a medication, even if they are experiencing side effects.

Treatment-Experienced

Treatment-Experienced

A person with HIV who is currently taking HIV medications or who has taken HIV medications in the past.

Treatment-Naïve

Treatment-Naïve

A person with HIV who has never taken HIV medications.

Treatment Regimen

Treatment Regimen

A plan of treatment, usually with medication.

Undetectable Viral Load

Undetectable Viral Load

When the amount of HIV in your blood is so low that it can’t be measured on a viral load test. Having an undetectable viral load is a good thing, but it does not mean your HIV is cured — and you can still pass it to others.

Viral Load

Viral Load

The amount of HIV found in your blood. When your viral load goes up or down, your healthcare provider can get an idea of how well an HIV treatment is working.

Erin