Prognosis in HIV and AIDS

  • Steven Oppenheim MD

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Introduction    The prognosis of adults in the developed world with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immune deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)  who are adherent with combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) is now approaching that of the general population (1,2).  This is attributable to the decreased incidence of AIDS opportunistic infections (OI) from cART use and improved care for those with HIV related complications (3-5).  Worldwide, the availability of cART is estimated to have saved nearly 8 million people between 2000-2014 (6). Consequently, an increased proportion of deaths in HIV patients are due to organ failure; non-AIDS malignancies; substance abuse; and limitations in health care access.  This Fast Fact will provide prognostic information on the non-malignant complications of the syndrome.  Fast Fact #214 will cover prognosis on AIDS related malignancies. 

Prognostic Principles  

  • Certain factors are correlated with a worse prognosis from AIDS related conditions: African American or mixed races, the number of OIs, poor functional and nutritional status, anemia, active substance abuse, a low CD4+ count, and a high HIV viral load (7-10).
  • For patients who do not receive cART with a CD4 count < 50 cells/mm3, survival ranges between 12-27 months; those with CD4+ counts <20 cells/mm3 have a median survival of 11 months (2).
  • Many patients die with HIV or AIDS, not from it.  In one large hospital based study, 78% of the deaths were non-AIDS related (11). Surprisingly, these deaths were more closely associated with cART use, a higher CD4+ count and a suppressed HIV viral load (1).
  • Hospice eligibility criteria include: absence of cART therapy, decreased performance status (Palliative Perfomance Scale <50%), a CD4+ count <25 cells/mcL, and a viral load >100,000 copies/mL plus either CNS lymphoma, AIDS wasting syndrome (>10% weight loss not attributable to another condition); Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC); progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML); systemic lymphoma; visceral Kaposi’s sarcoma, renal failure in the absence of dialysis, cryptosporidium infection, or toxoplasmosis. 
  • Some experts have described a “Lazarus effect” wherein AIDS patients appear to be imminently dying, only to experience a dramatic medical recovery with (re)institution of cART therapy. 
  • Because the field of HIV medicine is rapidly evolving, close collaboration with the treating HIV specialist is recommended regarding prognosis and treatment options.

OIs and Non-malignant HIV Related Conditions   Not only has the incidence of OIs declined dramatically since the early 1990s, but the 5 year survival following an AIDS defining OI is now 65% (12).  Below are prognostic data for the most common OIs and HIV related conditions in descending incidence during 2000-2015:

  • Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PCP): incident mortality 9.7-11.6%. Poor prognostic indicators include: age >50, respiratory failure, ICU admission, anemia, low albumin, new HIV diagnosis (13). Following successfully treatment of PCP, one year survival is 94% and 5 year survival is 73% (14).
  • AIDS Wasting Syndrome: 5 year mortality is 23% (15).
  • Cryptococcal meningitis: 90 day mortality is 10-19%. 1 year mortality is 16-26%. Increased age, intracranial pressure >25 cm, positive CSF cultures after 2 weeks therapy, cryptococcemia, and absence of cART are risk factors for mortality (16-19).
  • HIV-associated dementia: 1 year survival is about 65% (19-20).
  • Disseminated MAC infection: median survival 10 months; mortality is four fold that of MAC negative matched HIV+ patients (15).
  • Cryptosporidial enteritis: 5 year survival is 81% (3,21).
  • Cytomegalovirus disease including retinitis: median survival is 13-35 months (22-23).
  • Toxoplasma encephalitis: 77-90% survival at 12months if on cART with most deaths occurring within 6 months (19,24).
  • PML: median survival without cART is 4 months; overall 1 year survival is 50-63%.  Predictors of survival beyond one year include cART adherence and CD4+ > 100 cells/mm3 at diagnosis (25-27).


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Author Affiliation:  The University of Arizona College of Medicine and Banner Medical Group Division of Palliative Medicine

Version History:   Originally published March 2009.  Significant revision occurred in February 2016 by Steven Oppenheim MD to reflect updates in the literature.