AIDS is the third and most severe stage of HIV, which damages your immune system. All types of immune system problems can increase your risk of infections or serious illnesses. But AIDS is not an autoimmune disease.

Read on to learn how HIV and AIDS affect the immune system and how they differ from autoimmune diseases.


HIV is a type of virus that attacks the immune system. There first two stages of HIV are:

  • acute HIV, during which you may experience symptoms
  • chronic HIV, where you may be asymptomatic, but the virus is still active

The third and final stage of HIV is AIDS, a syndrome that leads to an extremely weak immune system. With AIDS, the immune system may have more trouble fighting illnesses and infections.

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An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system targets and attacks healthy body tissues, organs, and cells.

A healthy immune system protects you against external threats that can lead to illness. Examples of such invaders include bacteria, viruses, toxic substances, and many other foreign agents.

Autoimmunity is different. If you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system may incorrectly target healthy cells. The problem occurs in the absence of any infection or external threat. Autoimmune disorders can affect almost any part of your body.

While there’s no single known cause of autoimmune diseases, researchers think that both genetic and environmental factors could contribute. Autoimmune diseases may also run in families, although you may not develop the same one as a blood relative.

While you can inherit and pass on genes that may lead to certain autoimmune diseases, autoimmune diseases are not contagious. You can’t directly transmit an autoimmune disease to someone else.

There are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases, including:

Why is AIDS not an autoimmune disease?

The “A” in AIDS stands for “acquired,” not “autoimmune.” Changes to immunity in AIDS are the result of an acquired infection (HIV). AIDS does not meet the criteria for an autoimmune disease.

The emergence of an autoimmune disease causes your immune system to attack healthy cells. HIV affects your immune system in a different way. It destroys CD4 cells, a type of white blood cell.

Unlike autoimmune diseases, AIDS stems from a virus transmitted between people.

An immunodeficiency disorder (also called an immune deficiency disease) is an umbrella term to describe any condition that compromises a healthy immune system. Doctors classify these as either primary (acquired) or secondary (environmental).

Primary immune deficiency diseases (PIDDs) develop due to gene mutations you inherit. These mutations affect your immune system in a variety of ways. Some PIDDs subtly affect your immune system, but others can have very serious effects.

There are more than 200 PIDDs, including:

  • autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome (ALPS)
  • chronic granulomatous disease (CGD)
  • common variable immunodeficiency (CVID)
  • leukocyte adhesion deficiency (LAD)
  • LABA deficiency

Unlike PIDDs, which are inherited, secondary immunodeficiency disorders develop due to exposure to environmental factors. These include viruses and toxins.

HIV and AIDS are secondary immunodeficiency disorders because they develop from a virus, not a gene mutation. Other examples of secondary immune deficiencies may include a weakened immune system from chemotherapy drugs and malnutrition.

HIV is a virus that attacks and weakens your immune system by destroying white blood cells called CD4 cells. These cells normally help fight infections.

While many effective treatments can help stop the progression of HIV, it can still sometimes lead to AIDS.

Thankfully, with new, effective, and very tolerable antiretroviral therapy regimens, this is becoming much less common. AIDS is more likely to develop with undiagnosed or untreated HIV, where the amount of virus in your blood may increase over 10 years or more.

With AIDS, your immune system is very damaged. This makes it harder for your body to defend itself against bacteria, viruses, and other germs. This may increase your risk of more frequent and more severe illnesses over time.

It’s possible to develop an autoimmune disease alongside HIV or AIDS. But scientists don’t think that either the virus or syndrome can cause autoimmune conditions.

One review that studied a cohort of 5,186 people with HIV found a prevalence of autoimmune disease in less than 1% of cases.

The study found certain conditions, like thrombocytopenia, to be more frequent when compared to the general population. But the overall results suggest no link between the development of autoimmune disease and HIV or AIDS.

Still, it’s important to seek advice from your healthcare team if you experience possible symptoms of an autoimmune disease. The most common include:

  • unusual fatigue
  • changes in your skin, like blisters and rashes
  • unintentional weight changes
  • joint pain and stiffness
  • muscle aches

AIDS is a syndrome that significantly weakens your immune system. It’s an immunodeficiency disease, which is not the same as an autoimmune disease.

External factors cause secondary immune deficiency diseases. But autoimmune conditions stem from a combination of genetics and environment. Autoimmune diseases also involve attacks on otherwise healthy cells, organs, and tissues.

It’s important to stay in touch with your healthcare team and to report any new symptoms or changes in your overall well-being. While it’s possible to develop an autoimmune disease alongside AIDS, the latter is not a direct cause of the former.