We all know that smoking is harmful. But its impact on health is far greater for people living with HIV. It is a known fact that smoking weakens the immune system, making the body more vulnerable to diseases. Unfortunately, HIV does the same thing. Combine the two together and you will have a very weak system that is less responsive to treatments.
Early this year, research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that people with HIV are twice more likely to smoke than people without the disease. After taking into account other factors like age, gender, race, income status and educational level, the CDC found that having HIV was generally linked with about a two-fold increase in the risk of smoking. Even though the reasons behind the HIV-smoking link have not been defined yet (as more studies are needed), this has important implications in the rate of recovery of HIV patients, who constitute a significant portion of the American population.
What makes smoking more harmful for people with HIV?
1) Smoking increases an HIV patient’s risk of dying. While HIV infection doesn’t have a cure until now, with proper treatment, many people with HIV are living longer and more productive lives. The problem is that smoking poses a great threat to these people. In 2012, a large study by researchers from Copenhagen revealed that HIV-positive smokers lost 12.3 years of life compared with non-smoking people with HIV.
2) Smoking makes it hard to fight HIV-related infections. Because smoking weakens the body’s defenses, it significantly reduces the likelihood of HIV-positive individuals overcoming opportunistic infections associated with their condition.
3) Smoking makes HIV-positive people more at risk of cancer. There’s a large body of research suggesting that smoking increases the risk of malignancies and cancers among people with HIV or AIDS. One study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1999 revealed anal and cervical cancer are more common among HIV-infected people who smoke than those who don’t.
4) Smoking increases medication-related complications. HIV-infected individuals who smoke are more likely to suffer from treatment-related complications, such as nausea and vomiting, which can affect the quality of their life. This is why, as studies confirmed, many patients who smoke tend to discontinue undergoing treatments.
5) Smoking increases risk of heart disease among HIV patients. Cigarette smoking – a known factor for heart disease, may be particularly harmful for people with HIV who are receiving prolonged antiretroviral treatment. Studies show that lipodystrophy, a common side effect of the said treatment, is more common among HIV-infected people who smoke.
6) Smoking increases risk of AIDS Dementia Complex. This is a type of dementia that occurs in advanced stages of AIDS. In 1996, a study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and Human Retrovirology found that AIDS Dementia Complex is much more common among HIV-positive smokers.
7) Smoking is linked to early death among HIV-positive people. Due to the terrible effects of smoking on the body, there’s no surprise that it may actually accelerate the progression of HIV infection to AIDS. In 2006, a study revealed that the mortality rate in HIV-positive women who smoke is 53% higher than non-smoking HIV positive women.
All these things tell us that quitting smoking today is one of the most important steps towards a better health for people living with HIV. If you are living with HIV and you smoke, now is the time to talk to your healthcare provider and make a plan to quit today.