Smoking can be even more damaging to your health if you are living with HIV.

Smoking has not been shown to make HIV progress any faster than in non-smokers; however, HIV-positive smokers are at a higher risk of smoking related illnesses than HIV-negative smokers, and smoking has been shown to increase the risk of HIV-related illnesses occurring.

Compared to HIV-negative smokers, HIV-positive smokers are at an increased risk of developing illnesses such as:

  • Cardiovascular events such as high blood pressure, heart disease and heart attacks
  • Cerebrovascular events such as strokes
  • Malignancies such as lung cancer, anal cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, head and neck cancer
  • Decreased lung function, chest infections, chronic inflammation of the lungs and airways
  • Emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • Mouth problems such as gingivitis, periodontitis, and thrush

These illnesses aren’t necessarily more common in HIV-positive smokers because of an immune system weakened by HIV. For example, lung cancer is now one of the most common types of non-AIDS defining cancers seen in HIV-positive people, and it often occurs in people with high CD4 counts, and therefore with immune systems as strong as you would find in many HIV-negative people.

Moreover, illnesses such as lung cancer and emphysema are being diagnosed in HIV-positive smokers whilst they are still relatively young – often under the age of 40.

If you have a lower CD4 count and smoke then the risks of you getting an AIDS-defining opportunistic infection are higher, especially those affecting the mouth, lungs and airways. HIV-positive smokers with low CD4 counts are therefore at a higher risk of infections such as oral hairy leukoplakia, bacterial pneumonia and thrush. More worryingly, smoking also increases the risk of developing PCP if you have a low CD4 count, and this infection can prove fatal.

It’s obvious that you would therefore experience major health benefits from stopping smoking. Some HIV doctors have gone on record as saying that, other than adhering to HIV treatments, stopping smoking is the single most important thing that HIV-positive people can do to improve their health and life expectancy.

The good news is that with the smoking cessation support and new anti-smoking treatments now available, there has never been a better time to quit.

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