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Canker Sores & HIV

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Canker sores and HIV may seem completely unrelated. One is a condition caused by a virus, and the other is caused by unknown factors. Yet they are, in fact, somewhat related. Find out how HIV and canker sores are different and how are similar.

Two Different Conditions?

Canker sores and HIV seem like completely different conditions. The former is a non-contagious, non-deadly, disorder that involves painful sores inside the mouth. The latter is a contagious viral disorder that can lead to a person's untimely end if left untreated. But are they at all related?

You're about to find out, and learn a little bit about HIV and canker sores as well.

What Is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. Actually, those three letters really give away the basics of what you need to know about it! First, it only infects humans. Second, 'it' is a virus, and a contagious one at that! A virus is a microscopic entity that is technically not even alive until it enters your body and hijacks your body's machinery to replicate itself.

HIV (in green) can be seen leaving a white blood cell (in blue) in this microscopic image
HIV

Third, this human virus causes immunodeficiency. Immunodeficiency simply means a deficient immune system. The immune system is a collection of organs, tissues, and cells that work to protect you. They protect you from microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.

HIV attacks the white blood cells of the body, the foot-soldiers involved in protecting you from infectious diseases. With time, this can lead to severe immunosuppression. This means people with advanced stages of HIV can die from even the simplest infection.

What Are Canker Sores?

Now that you know a little about HIV, let's turn our attention to canker sores. These are painful, non-contagious, sores that are found inside the mouth. They may be on the cheek lining, inside of the lips, and so forth. They are usually small and round. They may be white to yellow in color and are surrounded by a red margin. They usually go away on their own within a couple weeks of appearing but also have a tendency to recur at a later time. No one knows exactly what triggers these pesky sores from appearing, but various theories have been proposed ranging from sensitivities to various foods to trauma to the mouth, from an activity such as vigorous brushing.

This is an example of a canker sore inside someone
Canker sore

Are HIV & Canker Sores Related?

So how are HIV and canker sores related? Well, for one, HIV is not believed to be a direct cause of canker sores. So don't go crazy thinking you have HIV just because you have canker sores! On the other hand, if you do have HIV, then the nature of your canker sores may differ from people who do not have HIV.

For example, canker sores are painful enough as it is, but HIV may make them even more painful. Furthermore, you just learned that canker sores usually go away on their own within a couple weeks of occurrence. Well, with HIV, they may not go away on their own! In fact, these canker sores can get so painful and persistent in people with HIV that even various medications used to treat canker sores may fail to get rid of them. This may lead to the HIV-positive patient losing a lot of weight, since eating may become very painful.

Before finishing this lesson, there must be a word of caution provided about this topic. People with HIV are susceptible to developing sore-like areas in the mouth that may look like canker sores but are actually caused by other problems, such as infections or even cancer. This is why it is important for anyone who is HIV-positive to see a doctor right away about any sores inside their mouths, even if they think that sore is just a canker sore!

Lesson Summary

HIV is human immunodeficiency virus. It is a virus that destroys humans' immune systems. A virus is a contagious microscopic entity that uses your body's machinery to replicate itself. Immunodeficiency refers to a weak immune system.

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