HIV is a viral infection caused by the human immunodeficiency virus. This virus attacks cells in your immune system and makes you more vulnerable to developing infections and other diseases.
The development of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has significantly improved the life span of people with HIV. But some health conditions, such as diabetes, are now more common among people with HIV. This is largely due to people with HIV living longer.
Diabetes is a disease that causes high blood sugar levels. If left untreated, high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels and organs and lead to severe complications.
Keep reading as we take a deeper look at the connection between HIV and diabetes, including symptoms and treatment options.
Chronic inflammation caused by HIV and HAART medication may
Estimates of how common diabetes is among people with HIV vary between studies, based on factors like the age of participants and where they live.
One frequently cited study estimates that people with HIV are
A Canadian study has a more conservative estimate of 1.39 times higher risk of diabetes among people with HIV over the age of 50, compared with people the same age without HIV.
Another 2021 study found that the risk of diabetes was 2.08 times higher among people with HIV taking integrase strand transfer inhibitors (an HIV drug), compared with the general local population in South Texas.
HIV medication and the risk of diabetes
From 1994 to 2017, the death rate for people with HIV fell nearly 10 times, from
Certain people are at a higher risk of developing diabetes after taking these medications. Risk factors include:
- having a family history of diabetes
- weight gain
- older age
- hepatitis C
- lipodystrophy, changes in body fat distribution that affect some people with HIV
Symptoms of diabetes can include:
- excessive thirst
- frequent urination
- increased hunger
- unexpected weight loss
- blurred vision
- tingling or numbness in hands and feet
- sores that don’t heal
Most, if not all, of these symptoms can have multiple causes and are not necessarily the result of diabetes. However, if you have several of these symptoms or suspect you may have diabetes, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment.
HIV does not have a cure, but you can keep it in check with HAART. HAART is a customized combination of medications used to suppress the virus.
People with HIV should check their blood sugar levels before starting HIV treatment. Some medications used to treat HIV can raise blood sugar levels even higher or cause weight gain, which is a risk factor for the development of diabetes.
It’s also important to check blood sugar levels periodically while taking HIV medication to see if you need to change your medication.
HIV and type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which your body attacks cells that produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t respond properly.
HIV is usually associated with the development of type 2 diabetes, which tends to develop later in life. A few
If you have type 1 diabetes, sexually transmitted infections and other serious illnesses can cause blood sugars to rise and make them difficult to manage. If not controlled, this can trigger a potentially life threatening complication called diabetic ketoacidosis. Learn how to protect yourself.
You may be able to protect yourself from developing diabetes by making some lifestyle and dietary changes. Try to:
- Eat a balanced diet, and limit refined sugar, salt, and fat.
- Drink water or other calorie-free drinks as your primary beverages to avoid excessive sugar.
- Exercise regularly. 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day on most days of the week is ideal.
- Maintain a moderate weight.
- Check your blood sugar levels regularly while taking HIV medications and before starting treatment.
- Quit smoking, or avoid starting if you don’t currently smoke.
Having diabetes and HIV may be associated with poorer survival than having HIV alone. However, treatment is available for both conditions.
People who only had HIV lived almost 1.5 years longer than people who also had diabetes, and almost 5 years longer than people with HIV, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.
Seeking diabetes treatment as soon as possible may help slow its progression and prevent complications.
People with HIV seem to be at a higher risk of developing diabetes than the general population. Inflammation caused by the virus and medication side effects play a role.
Monitoring your blood sugar levels at the beginning of HIV treatment and at regular intervals can help you prevent diabetes or catch it early before serious complications start.
Your doctor can test you for diabetes and advise you on how to manage it. You can also call the National Institutes of Health’s HIVinfo line at 800-448-0440 for more information about living with HIV.