Is HIV an Autoimmune Disease? Exploring Similarities and Differences

Amisha Jain
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Kaushal

Review medical content on WOW Rx Pharmacy, so that accurate drug use information is easily accessible to everybody.
Dr. Akansha is a licensed Clinical Pharmacologist. She possesses remarkable knowledge in Pharmacovigilance, prescription analysis, drug information, and drug safety services. Additionally, she is a keen learner and an educator.

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is hiv an autoimmune disease

According to the World Health Organization, 39 million people were living with HIV globally in the year 2022.

This intricate relationship between the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the immune system sparks a compelling inquiry: Is HIV an autoimmune disease? 

In unraveling this question, it becomes evident that HIV, in some respect, might be similar to an autoimmune disease.

This article looks at how HIV is different from autoimmune disease, if they are similar in any way, or how the presence of one affects the other.

Is HIV autoimmune

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is not classified as an autoimmune disease but as an infection. 

Unlike autoimmune conditions where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own cells, HIV is a viral infection that primarily targets the immune system itself. 

HIV specifically attacks CD4 T cells, weakening the body’s ability to fight off infections. 

While both HIV and autoimmune diseases involve the immune system, the mechanisms and triggers behind their actions differ fundamentally. 

To delve deeper into this distinction, it’s crucial to understand the nature of autoimmune diseases and the specific characteristics that set HIV apart.

If you think you might have HIV or an autoimmune disease, it’s essential to seek advise from a medical professional for a precise diagnosis and a customized treatment plan. Self-diagnosing and self-treating can be unsafe and may result in avoidable complications.

Understanding autoimmune diseases

Joint painSource: SHOTPRIME
Joint pain

Autoimmune diseases arise from a malfunctioning immune system that perceives the body’s own cells as foreign invaders and initiates an immune response against them.

Common autoimmune disorders include Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Type 1 Diabetes. 

Typical symptoms across various autoimmune diseases include inflammation, skin rashes, thyroid issues, joint pains, and dysfunction. 

The exact causes of autoimmune diseases remain unknown, but the following factors are thought to play a role

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Immune system abnormalities
  • Environmental influences
  • Endocrine system transitions
  • Abnormal inflammatory responses

Since HIV is often mistaken for an autoimmune disease, we will talk about the commonalities that might be between the two and how they are still different in the next section.

Recommended Article
Learn how to understand the symptoms and identify HIV.
Read Understanding HIV Symptoms: A Comprehensive Guide on WowRxPharmacy.

HIV and autoimmune disease

While HIV is not an autoimmune disease, there are intriguing parallels between the virus and autoimmune conditions. 

Both HIV and an autoimmune disease involve the immune system.

In the case of HIV, the virus directly impacts immune function and triggers a long-lasting immune response that can eventually weaken the immune system.

Meanwhile, in autoimmune diseases, the immune system becomes hyperactive against self-antigens. 

Self-antigens are receptors on the cell surface. The immune system recognizes these antigens as normal and generally does not mount an immune response against them.

The continuous activation of the immune system, characteristic of both HIV and autoimmune diseases, contributes to persistent inflammation and can have profound effects on overall health.

Furthermore, certain autoimmune-like manifestations can occur in individuals with HIV. 

These may include autoimmune Thrombocytopenia or autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia, where the immune system mistakenly targets blood cells. 

Additionally, HIV can exacerbate pre-existing autoimmune conditions or trigger the development of new autoimmune phenomena in infected individuals. 

Understanding these intersections is crucial for comprehensive healthcare for those living with HIV.

Does HIV increase the risk of autoimmune disease

hivSource: ktsimage_from_GettyImages
HIV blood sample

Although it’s possible to develop an autoimmune disease alongside HIV or AIDS, scientists do not believe that the virus or syndrome directly causes autoimmune conditions. 

A review of 5,186 people with HIV found a prevalence of autoimmune disease is rare, with certain conditions like Thrombocytopenia being more frequent. 

However, overall results suggest no conclusive link between autoimmune disease development and HIV. 

If you experience potential symptoms of an autoimmune disease, it’s crucial to consult your healthcare team for advice.


In conclusion, while HIV shares some features with autoimmune diseases, it is not classified as one. 

HIV is a viral infection with distinct mechanisms, primarily targeting the immune system’s CD4 T cells.

HIV instigates a prolonged immune response, leading to immunodeficiency, distinctly different from the hyperactive immune reactions seen in autoimmune diseases. 

It is crucial to recognize that HIV is not only a viral infection but a condition that can exhibit autoimmune-like manifestations. 

Recognizing these differences is imperative for accurate diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing research to advance our understanding of both HIV and autoimmune disorders.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most common autoimmune disease?

The most common autoimmune disease is Rheumatoid Arthritis. This condition primarily affects the joints, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. It is marked by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body’s own tissues, leading to inflammation in the joints and potentially other organs.

Is HIV a disease of the immune system?

Yes, HIV is a disease that primarily targets and weakens the immune system. It infects and damages crucial immune cells, particularly CD4 T cells, compromising the body’s ability to defend against infections and diseases. If left untreated, HIV can progress to AIDS, a stage where the immune system is severely impaired.

Can an autoimmune disease go away?

While some autoimmune diseases can go into remission, complete and permanent resolution is uncommon. Treatment aims to manage symptoms, control the autoimmune response, and slow disease progression. Periods of remission may vary, and ongoing medical management is often necessary to prevent flare-ups and maintain overall health.

What is the root cause of autoimmune disease?

The root cause of autoimmune diseases is not fully understood. A combination of genetic, environmental, and immune system factors is believed to contribute. Genetic predisposition may increase susceptibility, and environmental triggers such as infections or medications can prompt an overactive immune response, leading to the body attacking its own tissues.

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