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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Hiv
Dec 20, 1999

I am a 46 yrs female who recently tested HIV+. Apparently I have been HIV+ since 2/96. My doctors are specialists in this field and I feel very comfortable with them. Since being diagnosed three months ago, I have been tested at least three times. My doctors tell me my "numbers don't add up". The said I was very healthy with T-cell 1200 viral load was 50, my white cell count was normal. The report only showed that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis which another immune disease. At this time I am on no medication for either one. The R.A is mostly in my neck and I am also going through menopause. I was told they sent my medical records or a copy of it to the CDC in Atlanta. I was never told the results but they had me come back to have more bloods drawn so that they could send it to my lab and to theirs at the same time. I have been reading everything on the Internet but I have yet to read anthing concerning both Hiv and R.A. What can you tell me about the effects on having both immune disease diseases at the same time. I also should mention that my mother has systematic lupus. I would appreciated anything you could tell me.

Response from Dr. Feinberg

There is no specific connection between HIV and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It is possible to have either one or both. Having RA does not make it more likely that you'll get HIV or vice versa. Some people with RA have funny reactions to blood tests for other diseases, which is why your doctors are puzzled that your CD4 cell count is normal and your viral load is undetectable (or close to undetectable). Since your mom has lupus, you may have inherited a tendency to develop autoimmiune disease, which is what lupus and RA are. These diseases result from your body's immune system being overactive and attacking normal cells that belong there. HIV, on the other hand, destroys the immune system over time. Some people with both kinds of disease experience a remission (lessening of symptoms) of their autoimmune disease once they develop HIV, because their immune system isn't capable of "overreacting" anymore.

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