Women and Body Image (cont.)

HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS is the third leading cause of death in women aged 25 to 44. For African-American women aged 25 to 44, it is the number one cause of death. The number of women getting infected with HIV has increased greatly in the past 10 years, particularly for younger women. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens the body's immune system, causing infections and illnesses in a person that they otherwise could fight off. With major advances in treatment, HIV is becoming a chronic (lifelong) disease that can be managed with drugs. Prevention, such as not having sex and always using a condom every time a person has sex, is the best weapon against HIV.

Living with a chronic disease like HIV can affect a woman's body image. Drugs that a woman needs to stay healthy and to treat HIV-related illnesses can change how she feels and looks. Side effects such as nausea, fatigue, headache, diarrhea, and weight loss, can vary from person to person and be mild to extreme. Living with HIV can be stressful, affecting a woman's self-esteem and mental health. Women may need to care for children and other family members who also have HIV. Feeling alone, overwhelmed, and depressed at times is normal. Taking care of yourself and having a positive attitude is important. Getting the support you need from family and friends is equally important. For more, please visit the AIDS/HIV Center.

Lupus

Autoimmune disease is the fourth leading cause of disability in women. There are over 80 different disorders, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Seventy-five percent of these illnesses occur in women, mostly of childbearing age. Lupus is three times more common in African-American women, even though women of all races get lupus. With autoimmune disease a person's immune system, which fights off disease and infection, attacks healthy tissue, making a person sick. Autoimmune diseases are hard to diagnose and treat. People can suffer a great deal, both physically and mentally, before health care providers figure out what is wrong.

Lupus and other autoimmune diseases can affect a woman's body image in many ways. Physical changes a woman has no control over can occur. With lupus, there is a trademark "butterfly" rash on the face and hair loss. Fatigue that can often be extreme is a partner in all of these illnesses, and can lead to depression. Coping with not feeling well, sometimes every day, can be very stressful. A woman may lose her independence or not be able to care for her family. It is important for women to talk about their concerns and to get the support they need. Many advances are happening with the diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune diseases.