Category Archives: Health & Wellness

Health & Wellness Substance Abuse

New Painkiller Drug Removes Risk of Overdose

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An elite group of international researchers led by scientists from Stanford University, University of North Carolina and the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany has developed a new drug that works as a painkiller like morphine but without triggering and eliciting dangerous side effects such as respiratory suppression.

In a research study recently published in Nature, researchers said that they have identified the new opioid drug by using the computational techniques that allowed them to experiment and explore more than four trillion different chemical effects and interactions. The team of researchers also noted that they used the atomic structure of the brain’s receptors to reverse-engineer the novel drug that promises to block pain but does not have the potentially dangerous side effects.

While the drug compound has only been studied and tested on mice, the indication and implication of the drug may be massive. In the research experiment, the mice were exposed to a solution that contains the compound in varying degrees. Results showed that the mice displayed alternating and indifferent attitudes, which suggest that it has low addictive potential.

This novel drug compound is also known to not interfere with breathing, which remains to be the main cause of death in overdosing on painkillers. Moreover, the new drug also appears to bypass the brain’s dopamine-driven addiction to prevent drug-seeking behavior on mice.

More work still needs to be established to make sure that the compound is truly non-addictive. More tests are also needed to confirm it is as safe and effective in humans as it is for rodents. If this is confirmed, this drug could transform the fight against the ongoing epidemic of prescription painkiller addiction.

Health & Wellness

Diabetes Rate In Teens Higher Than Estimated, Study Says

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A recent study revealed that more American teenagers have diabetes or prediabetes. Surprisingly, the new data showed that the figures are actually higher than those that were previously estimated.

According to the new survey, almost 1 percent of more than 2,600 teens had diabetes. Of these, one in three cases were undiagnosed. The researchers also found that nearly 20 percent of the group studied were affected with prediabetes – a condition where the blood sugar levels are higher than normal and yet are not high enough to be medically considered as diabetes.

The results of the study are significant because teenage or childhood diabetes is associated with the early development of several risk factors and complications that arise from the blood sugar disorder. These medical complications include heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, and amputation of extremities.

Those with prediabetes are at a risk of developing type 2 diabetes unless lifestyle changes are introduced immediately. The condition is potentially reversible as long as the patient strictly adheres to the recommended diet plans and observes regular physical activities.

The new findings are disturbing because it indicates that diabetes is beginning to affect a much younger population on a larger scale. Parents are urged to be more fastidious in the preparation and monitoring of their children’s meals. The key is to observe a low-sugar, low-fat diet and to make sure that their kids maintain an active lifestyle by performing at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activities 5 times a week. Also, children should be subjected to blood glucose screening methods and regular check-ups regardless of whether or not there is a family history of the illness.

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Health & Wellness Substance Abuse

Breast Cancer Treatment Effectiveness Decreased By Cigarette Smoking

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Smoking may reduce the effectiveness of breast cancer treatment.

This was according to new research, which revealed that smoking had little or zero effect on the benefit of other drugs, such as chemotherapy or tamoxifen as well as radiation treatment. However, lead researcher Helena Jernstrom revealed in a news release that the findings of the study need confirmation. When confirmed, smoking status must be considered when choosing the kind of breast cancer therapy.

In breast cancer patients taking aromatase inhibitors, smokers were three times at risk of their cancer returning than nonsmokers, the researchers revealed. However, the study could not develop a cause-and-effect link.

Common aromatase inhibitors such as Arimidex (anastrozole), Aromasin (exemestane), and Femara (letrozole) hindered the production of estrogen in postmenopausal women. It lowers the amount of estrogen needed for the stimulation of the hormone receptor-positive breast cancer cells.

Hormone receptor-positive breast cancer is the most common type of breast cancer, which accounts for 2 of every 3 cases. The American Cancer Society reveals that early detection and treatment can mean 100 percent survival of the patients for more than five years.

The study involved more than 1,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in a 10-year period from 2002 to 2012. From that number, 1 in 5 women were found to be smoking before breast cancer surgery. The research revealed that women 50 years and up who underwent treatment with aromatase inhibitors fared considerably worse during the follow up period if they smoked than if they didn’t.

As only a small percentage of smokers quit during the treatment, Jenstrom said that there is no information on whether quitting smoking while taking aromatase inhibitors will increase the effectiveness of the drug.

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Health & Wellness

Study: Higher Risk Of Death In People With Heart Disease and Diabetes

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Findings of a new research from a global study revealed that the combination of Type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease can be lethal.

Spearheaded by a physician from UConn Health, the study concluded that patients diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes admitted into the hospital for congestive heart disease have a 1-in-4 chance of dying within the next one and a half years. The new findings present a grim picture of the outcome of diabetes patients with severe heart diseases.

Dr. William B. White, who is the study’s principal investigator, said that patients diagnosed with both acute coronary syndrome and Type 2 diabetes require more attention to prevent a cardiac attack. Dr. White is also a professor at the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at UConn Health. He also adds that congestive heart failure is likely for people with Type 2 Diabetes, as reported in a news release.

With these new findings, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires all new diabetes drugs to be formally tested for their potential effects on heart and stroke outcomes.

Patients with Type 2 diabetes are two to three times at risk of heart disease compared to the general population. This is attributed to obesity and other illnesses such as hypertension and high cholesterol levels which can lead to both diseases. The hormone insulin is also reportedly a contributor to heart disease. Insulin is needed by patients with Type 2 diabetes for their treatment.

The results of the new study were presented during the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in New Orleans. It was also published online in the ADA journal Diabetes Care.

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Health & Wellness

Men’s Health Week on June 13-19

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Men’s health is not just an issue exclusive to males alone. It is a family matter that can affect spouses, kids, and other members of the family.

This year marks another celebration of Men’s Health Week on June 13-19, 2016 with the theme, “We all get stressed. The question is: what do you do about it?”

This year’s celebration puts emphasis on stress and how it should be dealt with. Most often, stress is taken for granted, not knowing that leaving it unresolved can lead to greater problems. Studies show that one out of four males will likely develop mental health problems due to stress.

Stress may be categorized as either routine, sudden and traumatic stress.

  • Routine stress has something to do with the day-to-day activities we do, like work and relationship towards family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.
  • Sudden stress is caused by unexpected events in life, such as divorce, illness and getting fired from work.
  • Traumatic stress is caused by accidents, bad experiences or events that pose danger to self.

Our body responds in almost the same way to all these stress types, but it is hardest to detect if a person is suffering from routine stress. The signs and symptoms can be misconstrued for another illness. Most heart ailments are stress-related, much like diabetes, hypertension, depression and anxiety.

The message of the awareness campaign for all men is to face the issue and address the problem. Doing regular exercise can boost mood and well-being. It is also crucial to know when to seek professional help since you need to deal with current health conditions and mental issues. Last but not the least, you need to get emotional support from family and friends to lessen the impact of stress.

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Health & Wellness

All You Need To Know About Diabetes

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Diabetes is a lifestyle disease that affects millions of Americans and is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. According to the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 29.1 million people in the country have diabetes. The CDC further estimates that about 8.1 million people have diabetes but are undiagnosed or unaware of their condition.

Though not immediately life-threatening, the disease increases the risk for developing complicated medical conditions including cardiac disease, hypertension, and kidney disease. More severe cases can cause kidney failure, blindness, and loss of limbs to amputation.

However, diabetes can be managed and prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices.

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Types of Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a metabolic disease characterized by elevated blood sugar levels. Glucose builds up in the blood when the hormone called insulin cannot metabolize the sugar from the food that has been ingested. This occurs in either of three ways: when the pancreas cannot produce sufficient insulin, when it overproduces insulin, or when the insulin released cannot be utilized properly by the body because the cells have developed a condition called insulin resistance. Here is a brief discussion of the types of diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

In type 1 diabetes, there is underproduction of insulin. The disorder is commonly diagnosed among children and young adults. The disease was previously called “juvenile diabetes.” The American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates that only about 5 percent of diabetic patients have this form of diabetes.

Insulin is the hormone responsible for breaking down the sugar components, carrying the glucose from the bloodstream to be distributed throughout the cells of the body, and converting it into energy. Because those with Type 1 Diabetes do not produce sufficient amounts of the hormone, they need “insulin therapy” to survive. Thus, type 1 diabetes is also referred to as the “insulin dependent diabetes mellitus.”

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is more common compared to Type 1. It is estimated that about 90 to 95 percent of all diabetes cases are of this form.

The disorder occurs when the pancreas produces insulin but the body cannot effectively use it. This condition is called insulin resistance. This causes the pancreas to overproduce the hormone in order to keep up with the demands to metabolize the sugar in the food ingested by the body. Over time, the pancreas will simply be unable to produce sufficient amounts to break down the glucose components, causing it to build up in the blood.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is the type that affects women during pregnancy. Most pregnant women develop the condition around the 24th week or after the baby’s body has been formed.

This does not indicate that the woman had diabetes prior to conceiving. It only means that she has high blood sugar levels during her pregnancy. However, she may be at risk for developing type 2 diabetes later on in life. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes have about 35 to 60 percent chances of acquiring type 2 diabetes within 20 years.

Gestational diabetes can be harmful to the fetus. The glucose in the mother’s bloodstream can cross over the placenta which in turn, causes the baby to have high blood sugar levels. The extra sugar is stored as fat. As a result, the fetus may develop “fetal macrosomia,” a term used to describe a baby who is born with a significantly higher birth weight than normal.

Prediabetes

Prediabetes is a condition where a person has blood sugar levels that are higher than normal and yet are not high enough to be considered diabetes. Those with prediabetes are at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes compared to those with healthy blood glucose levels.

According to the CDC, about 15 to 30% of those diagnosed with the condition are likely to develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years. However, prediabetes is potentially reversible. Those who maintain a healthy diet and active lifestyle can prevent the onset of diabetes or reduce the chances of progression by as much as 50 percent.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of diabetes vary according to the elevation level of the blood sugar. Some patients may not notice any signs in the early stages and may not detect the disease unless some blood tests are conducted. The symptoms common to both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes include: increased thirst, frequent urination, food cravings despite having eaten, fatigue, inexplicable weight loss, tingling sensation in the feet, numbness in the feet, blurred eyesight, dry and itchy skin, irritability, slow-healing sores, and infections in the gums or mouth.

Tests and Diagnosis

Early detection and diagnosis are critical to an effective management and treatment of diabetes. A person who suspects that he may be manifesting some of the symptoms should get himself checked immediately. Parents who notice some signs of type 1 diabetes in their children should promptly discuss these with the child’s pediatrician.

Since symptoms of diabetes may not become immediately evident, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people with risk factors or genetic predispositions be regularly screened. These include people with a body mass index higher than 25 regardless of age, those aged 45 years and older, and those with additional risk factors such as hypertension. The risk factors are expounded on in the later part of this article.

diabetes test treatment

Here are the tests to determine if a person has the following types of diabetes:

Type 1, Type 2, or Prediabetes

When either prediabetes or any of the types of diabetes is suspected by the doctor, he may order that the patient undergoes one of the following tests, as reported by Mayo Clinic:

 Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test

This blood test is used to ascertain the average blood sugar level for the past two or three months. It works by measuring the percentage of blood sugar that has attached to the hemoglobin, a protein that carries the oxygen in the red blood cells.

An A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher on two separate tests indicates diabetes. A level between 5.7 and 6.4 percent indicates prediabetes. A reading belong 5.7 percent is considered a normal or healthy blood sugar level.

Random Blood Sugar

This is performed by taking blood samples at random without regard to the time of the last meal or drink taken. A random blood sugar level of 200 milligrams decilitre (mg/dL) or of 11.1 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) and higher is suggestive of diabetes.

Fasting Blood Sugar (FBS)

In FBS, a patient is first required to fast for at least 8 hours. During the fasting period, even water intake is prohibited. A result that shows an FBS level between 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L) is indicative of prediabetes. An FBS level of 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) on two separate occasions suggests that the patient has diabetes. A reading below 100 is considered normal.

2 Hour Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT)

To conduct a GTT, a patient must first undergo an FBS test. Afterward, he is asked to drink a glucose liquid and more blood is drawn to test glucose levels two hours after the drink is taken.

A blood sugar level less than 140 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L) is normal. A GTT reading of more than 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L) indicates diabetes. A GTT reading between 140 and 199 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L and 11.0 mmol/L) indicates prediabetes.

Additional Tests for Type 1 Diabetes

To confirm a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, other tests specifically designed to establish the presence of certain antibodies that would indicate the condition are performed. These are:

C-Peptide

The test measures C-peptide levels in the blood. A low level suggests that a person has type 1 diabetes because C-peptide levels correlate to the amount of insulin being produced by the pancreas.

Glutamic Acid Decarboxylase Autoantibodies (GADA)

The GADA test is used to verify the presence of autoantibodies directed against beta cells in the pancreas which produce insulin.

Insulin Autoantibodies (IAA)

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system produces antibodies that attack the insulin produced by the body. The IAA test is used to ascertain whether such antibodies are present.

 Insulinoma-Associated-2 Autoantibodies (IA-2A)

This is similar to GADA the sense that the test aims to locate antibodies. What makes IA-2A different is that it searches for the presence of antibodies that attack specific enzymes in the beta cells.

Gestational Diabetes Tests

A pregnant woman may be asked to undergo some blood tests to check for gestational diabetes. These are:

Initial Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT)

To perform a GTT, the patient is asked to drink a glucose solution. After an hour, blood is drawn to check the blood sugar level. A blood sugar level below 140 mg/dL (7.2 to 7.8 mmol/L) is considered normal. A higher reading indicates a potential risk for gestational diabetes. A follow-up test needs to be done to conclude the diagnosis.

Follow-up Glucose Tolerance Test

This is done if the initial GTT result is suggestive of gestational diabetes. The pregnant woman is asked to fast overnight and then the FBS is measured. Afterward, she is asked to consume a syrupy sweet solution of higher glucose concentrations. The blood sugar levels will be checked every hour for a period of three hours. When at least two out of the three test results show a blood sugar level reading that is higher than normal, she is conclusively diagnosed to have gestational diabetes.

Treatment and Management

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that requires effective management. The goal of treatment is to lower and stabilize the patient’s blood sugar levels. To accomplish this, doctors advise patients to religiously take the prescribed medications and to incorporate changes in lifestyle.

sugar crystals diabetes

A healthy diet is a major component in the management of diabetes. Meals should consist mainly of foods that are high in fiber and nutrition such as whole grains, white or lean meat, vegetables, and fruits with a low glycemic index. Foods consisting of refined or processed sugars and starch should be avoided. It is recommended that a dietitian is consulted to help the patient draw the proper meal plans.

Patients diagnosed with type 1, type2, and prediabetes could significantly benefit from incorporating some form of physical exercise in their daily routines. Aerobic exercises lower the blood sugar levels and improve the cells sensitivity to insulin.

Medications for type 2 diabetes aim to increase insulin output, reduce the amount of glucose released from the liver, and increase the cells’ insulin sensitivity. A drug called Metformin is usually prescribed for this disorder. In some cases, insulin therapy is prescribed in addition to oral medications.

Those who have type 1 diabetes need insulin therapy. Insulin is injected with a needle and syringe or an insulin pen. An insulin pump may also be used. A doctor may prescribe a combination of insulin types, depending on the patient’s needs and lifestyle.

The treatment for gestational diabetes and prediabetes are similar to the therapies prescribed for type 2 diabetes. Those diagnosed with prediabetic conditions must observe a healthy diet and aim to have at least 150 minutes of aerobic activities per week to delay or prevent progression to type 2 diabetes.

Regardless of the form of diabetes, patients should monitor their blood glucose levels several times a day to make sure they maintain the target blood sugar level.

Risk Factors

The cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown and it is difficult to prevent. Among the diabetes risk factors are family history, race, the presence of autoantibodies, and a diet low in vitamin D.

Some people are more predisposed to type 2 diabetes than others. Certain factors elevate the chances of developing the disorder. These include family history, race, age, weight, high body mass index, physical inactivity, and a diet rich in sugar and carbohydrates. Those with health conditions such as hypertension, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and high levels of triglyceride and cholesterol are also predisposed to the disease.

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Various researches and clinical studies are being undertaken to find more remedies for the treatment of diabetes. In the meantime, patients can delay the onset of complications and manage their symptoms. The disease is controllable for as long as those diagnosed are committed to change their lifestyle and cooperate with their physicians.

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Health & Wellness

Celebrate UK Diabetes Week 2016 on June 12-18

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Diabetes Week is being celebrated this week in the U.K. on June 12-18, 2016. Spearheaded by Diabetes U.K., the event is designed to spread information and awareness about the condition, as well as generate funds for their projects.

Diabetes has become one of the most well-known diseases in the world. Approximately 3.5 million British are diagnosed with the condition and an additional 549,000 have diabetes but are not aware of it yet. Many people have friends and family members who are suffering from diabetes. The condition is still hugely misunderstood and there are myths and misconceptions surrounding it.

The theme of this year’s celebration is “Setting the Record Straight.” For this year’s celebration, everyone is invited to share straight talking stories, facts, and videos to let everyone know the real score about diabetes.

Here are some of the ways that people can get involved, even if you’re outside Europe:

  • Download the pack of awareness raising posters here, and share them with your local community in order to spread information to as many people as possible.
  • Share your stories and experiences about diabetes by taking part in the online conversation. Use the hashtags #actuallydiabetes or #diabetesweek.
  • A Diabetes Week for Professionals page is designed for healthcare professionals who want to debunk myths about diabetes care.

For more information, check out the Diabetes Week page.

Health & Wellness

Obesity Risk Regulated By High Fat Intake on ‘Cheat Days’

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A recent study at the College of Pharmacy of the University of Georgia revealed a new way of preventing obesity. Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study concluded that alternating between high fat and a nutritionally balanced diet at regular intervals may help in the prevention and treatment of obesity as well as the disorders associated with it.

Scientists at the university fed mice with a high fat diet for a period of five days before changing to regular feed for a period of one, two, or five days. They repeated the process for several weeks and observed the results. The research team discovered that alternating from a regular diet for two or five days between periods of high fat intake will not only help maintain body weight but can also boost insulin sensitivity. Likewise, it can help prevent the accumulation of fat in the liver, which is a common side effect of obesity.

Research authors Dexi Liu and his co-authors Yongjie Ma and Mingming Gao also discovered that an alternating diet can also help reduce obesity in the mice, as reported in a news article. The authors fed several obese mice with an alternating diet for a period of five weeks, which resulted to a 12 percent reduction in fat mass as opposed to controlled animals.

Liu said that the study suggests that people can eat the food that they like, according to what pleases them, but it has to be controlled with periods of rest. Liu warned that the results in mice may not directly apply to humans, although the new findings provide a foundation for new dietary guidelines.

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Health & Wellness

Nutrition Facts Label on Food Products Revised by FDA

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that there is a need to redesign the nutrition facts panel to include sugar content and its appropriate portion per serving. This is to address the unhealthy consumption of individuals leading to diseases. The organization would also like to put emphasis on “calories” and “servings” equated on the number of grams of sugar that is being added on the food, together with the percent daily value for “added” sugar.

It is necessary to have a barometer for these criteria in order to meet the nutrition requirements while staying within the allowed proportion of one’s sugar limits without compromising the scientific mark that supports the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, according to a news release.

The new law will slated to take effect on July 26. By this date, labels will no longer display “calories from fat”, but instead will indicate the amount of “Total Fat”, “Saturated Fat”, and “Trans Fat” per serving.  Nutritionist and dietitians are all looking forward to this milestone in the history of nutrition. In addition, First Lady Michelle Obama is expected to deliberate on the redesign on Nutrition Facts Label, being an advocate on obesity prevention herself.

The FDA added that it is easier to monitor one’s calorie and nutrient intake if the food or drink is packed per single portion.  The buying public normally looks at the label to define its suitability to their health and dietary requirements.  According to Dr. Robert Califf, FDA Commissioner, the current label system needs some revisions to better help Americans make intelligent decisions in choosing their food to avoid the complications of heart ailments, obesity and diabetes due to their eating patterns.

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Early Disease Detection Health & Wellness

Important Things You Need To Know About HIV Testing and Treatment

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The HIV epidemic continues to be a major global health threat. A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that by the end of 2014, a total of 36.9 million people around the world were living with the HIV infection. That same year, the organization recorded a total of 1.2 million deaths from the AIDS virus. Since the onset of the epidemic, almost 71 million people have been infected worldwide, accounting for about 34 million deaths, according to this article.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that by the end of 2012, an estimated 1.2 million people of ages 13 and older were living with HIV. Of these, 12.8% were unaware of their condition. There are about 50,000 new HIV cases in the country per year, CDC said.

The world of medical science still has to find a cure for the disease that continues to affect and threaten the lives of a substantial number of people. Through the years, various health agencies and communities have exerted significant efforts to combat the epidemic. Emphasis is placed on prevention, early detection, and immediate treatment. Though the end of the search for the ultimate antidote is not yet in sight, advances in therapies including contemporary antiretroviral drugs have shown to be effective in increasing life expectancy among HIV patients. Next to prevention, the key is early detection.

HIV testing

Types of HIV Tests

HIV tests are used to determine whether a person is infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which triggers a more deadly disease called Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).  These tests detect the presence of certain antibodies, antigens, or RNA in a person’s blood, saliva, or urine which signifies that the individual has been infected by the virus.

The tests are available in physician’s offices, clinics, hospitals, health centers, and health departments. Standard tests are either inexpensive or completely free. Testing centers implement a strict confidentiality policy for the protection of the patients. Anonymous testing is also available in most states.

The available types of HIV tests include the following:

Antibody Tests

These are the most common forms of HIV testing. These tests are done to detect the presence of antibodies to the virus in the person’s blood. Some tests can also detect these biomolecules in the saliva. With a normal antibody test, a patient waits for a few days to a few weeks before he gets a result. A rapid antibody test, however, can give the patient the results between 20 to 30 minutes.

There are two general types of antibody tests that are commonly used:

Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA)

This is usually the first test conducted to determine the presence of antibodies to HIV. If such antibodies are detected in the blood, the test returns an HIV Positive result. It is usually repeated for the confirmation of the diagnosis. When the initial ELISA test returns an HIV Negative result, no further tests need be conducted.

Western Blot

This is performed when two ELISA tests return a positive result.  This test is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. It is more difficult and takes longer to perform. Hence, it is also more expensive.

Both tests are highly accurate and when the combination shows positive results, a patient is clinically diagnosed to be HIV positive.

However, the antibody tests cannot successfully detect HIV immediately after exposure because it takes between 2 weeks and 6 months for antibodies to appear in the blood. This is called the “window period” within which a person may be infected and still may not test positive for the virus.

Ideally, antibody tests should be conducted beyond the window period. It is recommended that testing is done at 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months after exposure or contact with a person who is HIV infected, as reported in this article.

Other tests

Here are some other tests that may be used to check for HIV:

Antibody / Antigen Tests

These are tests that can detect the presence of both antibodies to the virus and antigens or particles of the virus itself. Antigens of HIV typically show up within 2 to 4 weeks after infection. Thus, antigen/antibody combination tests can detect HIV much earlier than the standard antibody tests. These screening methods are available only for blood testing. A rapid antibody/antigen test can deliver results within as quickly as 20 minutes.

Polymerase Chain Reaction

The PCR test can identify the presence of the virus itself in a person’s blood. It checks to find genetic material of the virus (RNA or DNA) in the person’s white blood cells. PCR testing requires highly technical skills and costly laboratory equipment. Thus, it is not as common as antibody testing.  Not all hospitals and clinics offer this service.

PCR can detect the virus within days or weeks after exposure. It is recommended to be performed when the results of antibody tests are uncertain such as when they were done within the window period. The test is also conducted for the screening of organs and blood intended for donation. In addition, it is done to determine if a baby born to an HIV-positive mother has likewise been infected.

In-Home Test Kits

Home test kits can screen either the blood or saliva for the presence of HIV antibodies. There are two tests currently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Some home testing kits are conducted by pricking the finger, placing drops of blood on the given card, and mailing the card to a licensed laboratory. The sample will be tested using the ELISA and Western Blot methods. The screening is done anonymously and the patient is given an identification number to be used when he claims results by phone call within three business days.

Meanwhile, others can detect antibodies in the saliva. To perform the test, the user swabs his upper and lower gums and places the collected sample in the given vial. This is sent to a laboratory for screening. Results can be expected within 20 to 40 minutes, but a follow-up test should be done if the initial results are positive.

Benefits of Early Detection

CDC recommends that all persons of 13 years of age and older must be tested for HIV, regardless of risk factors, based on the agency’s report. It is also advised that routine screening for adults, adolescents, and pregnant women be conducted in healthcare settings in the United States, according to this informational article.

Persons exposed to risk factors such as those having multiple sex partners, engaging in unprotected sex with a possibly HIV infected person, engaging in risky sexual behavior such as men having sex with men (MSM), and sharing needles for intravenous drug use should get themselves tested right after the lapse of the window period.

It is important to confirm a possible diagnosis as soon as possible for several reasons:

  1. To avoid transmitting the virus to others, including to other sexual partners or to an unborn child;
  2. To reduce the viral load in the blood;
  3. To get immediate treatment.

The earlier the virus is detected, the sooner can treatment and monitoring can begin. Treating the condition in the early stages can significantly slow down the growth rate of the virus. This increases life expectancy and delays the onset of AIDS.

Over the years, newer HIV treatment options have developed including advanced anti-retroviral medication which has shown to greatly increase a patient’s life expectancy.

HIV signs symptoms

HIV Treatment

Untreated, the HIV virus will spread rapidly and the illness will progress to AIDS, the most advanced stage. When the immune system is considerably damaged, the body will be susceptible to a host of life-threatening opportunistic diseases and cancers until death occurs.

Early medical attention can effectively delay progression and when administered properly, patients can continue to live normal and productive lives although they must employ special precautions to avoid contaminating other people.

HIV patients are treated with a combination of several medications. This regimen is called the antiretroviral therapy (ART). While the medicines cannot cure the virus, they control the spread and reduce the viral load or the number of HIV copies multiplied in the body. With a lower viral load, the immune system is maintained strong enough to fight off and recover from a number of infections and cancers. Having lesser HIV copies in the body also reduces the risk of transmitting the disease.

For instance, a research published in 1994 showed that the use of the drug called zidovudine or AZT by HIV-infected women and by their newborns reduced the risk of HIV transmission from about 25% to 8%.  Another study showed that pregnant women who received at least two weeks of ART reduced the risk of perinatal transmission to less than 1 percent.

There are 6 major classes of drugs for HIV treatment, according to aids.gov. These are non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), protease inhibitors (PIs), fusion inhibitors, CCR5 antagonists (CCR5), and integrase strand transfer inhibitors (INSTIs).

The 6 classes include several medicines, depending on how each fights the virus.  There are 25 medicines that are currently approved for HIV treatment. A treatment regimen will usually combine at least three different medicines from at least two of the six categories, based on this article. A mixture of drugs is necessary to efficiently reduce the viral load and prevent resistance to medication.

In prescribing the medications, the doctor will consider several factors including the patient’s health history, results of other diagnostic tests performed after the diagnosis which measure the viral load in the patient’s body (e.g. CD4 Count), results of drug-resistance testing, possible side effects of the medicines, possible contraindications, convenience, and costs.

The drugs can cause several side effects. The most common reactions are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, skin rashes, and insomnia. In considering an ART regimen, doctors will consider a combination of drugs that will efficiently control the disease with the least possible side effects.

ART is a lifetime treatment plan to which a patient must religiously adhere. His commitment to the regimen and to certain lifestyle changes will determine the effectiveness of the therapy and the quality of life he can expect while living with HIV.

Any concerns that arise while on certain medications should be discussed immediately with the health care provider or physician. Barriers to effective treatment should be reduced or eliminated as soon as possible.

While research continues to provide critical information for the development of advanced treatment plans and therapies, medications will not solve the global epidemic. The thrust of government and health agencies should focus more on education and prevention methods. Controlling and combatting the crisis requires a combination of measures including increasing access to screening methods and testing facilities, intensifying health campaigns, providing more HIV and AIDS support programs, and strengthening partnerships between government health agencies, communities, and the private sector to maintain effectual prevention programs.

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