Diarrhea is a common symptom of HIV that can occur for a few reasons, both infectious and noninfectious. When diarrhea is noninfectious, it can be difficult to manage, because it is either caused by the HIV infection itself or as a side effect from antiretroviral therapy (ART). When HIV-associated diarrhea lasts for four or more weeks, it may be due to HIV enteropathy.
Finding relief from HIV-associated diarrhea is essential in mitigating additional health complications from occurring. When diarrhea is mild, it can be an inconvenience and make it difficult or stressful to leave the house. When diarrhea is severe and chronic (lasts for four or more weeks) it can lead to life-threatening health complications. In this article, we’ll discuss common complications of chronic diarrhea.
Dehydration occurs when your body loses or uses more fluid than it receives. We are constantly losing water throughout the day when we breathe, sweat, and excrete it as urine. But when you lose fluids because of diarrhea, it occurs at a much faster rate and can be difficult to stay hydrated. When you’re dehydrated, your body doesn’t have enough liquids to properly carry out normal functions. In order to avoid dhydration, it’s important to understand the signs of dehydration.
Signs of dehydration can include:
- Decreased urination and urine darker in color
- Low blood pressure
If not managed early on in infection with HIV, dehydration can lead to serious health complications, including:
- Kidney damage
- Low blood volume
- Electrolyte imbalance
Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals found throughout the body in your blood, tissues, and other body fluids. An imbalance in electrolytes occurs when levels of certain electrolytes become either too low or too high. This imbalance causes a significant disruption in many of the bodily functions that depend on proper electrolyte balance. Electrolytes help facilitate numerous processes in the body, including:
- Bringing nutrients into the cells
- Moving wastes out of the cells
- Balancing PH levels
- Ensuring the proper function of the nerves, heart, brain, and muscles
Inadequate Nutrient Absorption
When the intestines are not able to absorb nutrients from ingested food and liquids, this is called malabsorption. Chronic diarrhea is one of the most common GI issues that cause malnutrition. What can make things worse, is that the most common symptom of malabsorption is diarrhea. Other signs of malabsorption include:
- Weight loss
- Changes in appetite
How Can You Treat HIV-Associated Noninfectious Diarrhea?
If you have tested positive for HIV and have had diarrhea for four weeks or longer, make an appointment to see your doctor. In order to choose an appropriate treatment option, your doctor will want to order diagnostic tests to determine whether your diarrhea is caused by an infection. If your diarrhea is not infectious (caused by a pathogen), your doctor may discuss your different treatment options.