Diarrhea and HIV: A Simple Brief

Diarrhea lasting longer than an acute bout caused from food borne illness or bacterial and viral infections should always be addressed. Persistent diarrhea can result in vital nutrients not being absorbed which can ultimately lead to nutritional deficiencies, lowering the resiliency of the body. 

If you are working to manage HIV you may notice diarrhea that just won’t seize. If this is the case, please be sure to communicate immediately with your medical team and don’t rely on this post for medical care; it is purely for informative purposes and should not be taken as medical advice.

The following is a guest post by Anne Marie Davis, more information about her is located below.

A brief on HIV Enteropathy

HIV Enteropathy

HIV enteropathy refers to the dysfunction of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in people living with HIV (PLWH). It is characterized by chronic noninfectious diarrhea caused by changes in certain structures of the GI tract. HIV enteropathy, also referred to as HIV-associated diarrhea, is an ongoing comorbidity in PLWH as the HIV infection persists in the gut. 

Symptoms of HIV Enteropathy

HIV enteropathy is accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Prolonged diarrhea that lasts for more than four weeks

  • Inflammation of the GI system

  • Increased intestinal permeability (an increase in materials passing from the gut, through the intestinal lining, and into the bloodstream)

How Does HIV Affect the Gut to Cause Enteropathy?

The exact mechanism in which HIV affects the GI tract is not entirely understood. However, researchers have found relationships between certain structures of the digestive tract and HIV that may lead to enteropathy.

Scientists have determined that early on in HIV infection, the virus attacks immune cells located in gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). HIV depletes immune cells in GALT — and these immune cells do not recover in number, even after antiretroviral therapy (ART) is started. This depletion destabilizes the normal balance of immune cells in the gut and puts the gut into a chronic state of inflammation. 

Chronic inflammation damages structures in the intestines, such as the villi (small structures in the intestines that extend out like grass or fingers to aid in the absorption of nutrients). This damage disrupts the normal mechanism of nutrient absorption and permeability of the intestines and may be the start of enteropathy.

Complications That Can Occur from HIV Enteropathy 

It’s important to know that if you have chronic diarrhea and are living with HIV diarrhea causes further health complications if not treated properly. Complications that can occur due to prolonged diarrhea include:

  • Dehydration

  • Malabsorption and malnutrition

  • Electrolyte imbalance

How Can HIV Enteropathy Be Treated?

HIV-associated noninfectious diarrhea has previously been treated using over-the-counter diarrhea medications as well as lifestyle modifications, including:

  • Drinking lots of clear liquids such as water, juice, and broth

  • Avoiding alcohol

  • Avoiding caffeine

  • Lowering the intake of fried foods and fatty meats

Further Information

To learn more about HIV-associated diarrhea and treatment options, click here.

For more in-depth information on diarrhea, or if your child is struggling with diarrhea, this article can help.

About the Author

Anne Marie Davis is a freelance copywriter and blogger, she began her online writing back in college during a mandatory blogging class which turned her focus into merging her interest in health and wellness and online writing. Her main focus in the past few years has been family health and the relationship between parenting and childcare but often writes on lighter subjects like travel and fashion whenever she actually has a good idea for a blog post. 











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