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Can HIV-Diagnosed Adults Live a Long Life?

by Hilary Meyer, LGBT Aging Expert
April 13, 2012

Question: How long can a HIV-diagnosed person be expected to live?

Answer: HIV infection is a lifelong illness with no known cure. However, tremendous advances in treatment have changed the outlook of HIV from a fatal disease to a chronic condition that can be controlled with medications and healthy choices.
One’s life expectancy depends on a complex combination of gender, race, genetic factors, and various health behaviors. Additional factors such as better drugs, earlier detection, and increased experience of physicians are thought to increase the life expectancy of people with HIV. Life expectancy of people living with HIV, though complicated to determine precisely, has significantly increased since 1996. With improved medications and emphasis on early diagnosis and treatment, only further improvements are expected.

Since 1996, HIV medications have become both more potent and less likely to produce toxic side effects. Constant improvements in HIV medications and combination therapies make it difficult to determine exactly how living with HIV affects one’s life expectancy if he or she is diagnosed early and treated appropriately. The outlook is favorable, however, especially for those who begin taking medication shortly after being diagnosed.

For example, a 2011 British study of HIV-positive men estimated a life expectancy of 75 years when HIV is diagnosed shortly after time of infection, compared to a life expectancy of 71.5 years when HIV is diagnosed significantly later. The study compared these results to a determined life expectancy of 82 years for individuals without HIV and noted that the decrease in life expectancy for HIV-positive men is comparable to the effect of cigarette smoking or having a chronic disease like diabetes. This reaffirms the classification of HIV as a chronic, not fatal, disease and demonstrates that those diagnosed with HIV can nonetheless live long, healthy lives.

For additional information, browse through the extensive resources on the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging’s website (a project of SAGE).

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Hilary Meyer is the Director of the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, the country's only resource center focused on improving the quality of services and supports offered to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults nationwide. Meyer provides leadership for the Center and the activities of its staff, advisory council and national partner organizations, guides content development and tools, and diseeminates best practice publications.

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