HIV/AIDS and Palliative Care

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that is carried from person to person through body fluids such as blood, breast milk, semen or vaginal secretions. As the virus reproduces, it damages the immune system, which leads to illness and infection.

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is an advanced stage of the HIV infection. AIDS can lead to major infections because the virus attacks white blood cells, which help protect the body against infection. Some AIDS patients develop certain types of cancer associated with the AIDS virus.

HIV/AIDS has changed from an acute illness to a chronic illness in the past decade because of new medications (HAART, or highly active antiretroviral therapy). Patients are living longer but still need specialized, focused care.

HIV/AIDS Symptoms and Treatment— How Palliative Care Can Help

Palliative (pronounced “pal-lee-uh-tiv”) care is specialized medical care for people facing serious illness like HIV/AIDS. The goal is to improve quality of life for both you and your family. You can have palliative care at any age and at any stage of your illness. You can also have it together with curative treatment.

Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work in partnership with your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in your illness and can be given along with treatment meant to cure.

If you’re living with HIV/AIDS, palliative care can help by managing your symptoms such as pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and treatment side effects such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, palliative care teams can help you through depression, anxiety and fear, which are not uncommon in patients facing a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. Treatment options might include medication as well as massage therapy, relaxation techniques and guided imagery.

Palliative care team members don’t help just you; they support your family too by focusing on communication and spending time with them. Your palliative care team can also help you and your family prepare for the future. Making decisions on how and where you want to be cared for can be accomplished through discussions with the team about what you value and what you find as an acceptable quality of life.

Palliative care in combination with your HIV/AIDS care always strives to help you and your family achieve the best possible quality of life.

How to Get Palliative Care

If you or a loved one needs palliative care, ask your doctor for a referral.

Finding a hospital with a palliative care team in your area is easy. Just go to for a state-by-state list. To find out if palliative care is right for you, take our quiz.