Life expectancy for people living with HIV has risen by 15 years in the last decade.

Research by the University of Bristol’s School of Social and Community Medicine found that earlier treatment and modern medicine has contributed to the increase.

A team led by Dr Margaret May looked at the average 20-year-old starting treatment with anti-retroviral drugs between 1996-1999 and 2006-2008.

Between 1996 and 1999, the average life expectancy was 30 years. Ten years later, this had risen to almost 46 years.

The research found substantial differences in life expectancy for men and women.

Between 1996 and 2008, men had a 40-year life expectancy, while women’s life expectancy was 50 years.

Life expectancy is calculated as the expected number of years of life remaining at a given age.

The research, published today in the British Medical Journal, said that the age at which treatment begins has a “significant” effect on life expectancy.

Sir Nick Partridge, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said the study showed the need for HIV testing.

He said: “This is very good news for people with HIV, their families and friends. It also demonstrates why it’s so much better to know if you have HIV. Late diagnosis and late treatment mean an earlier grave, so if you’ve been at risk for HIV, get tested now.

“Of course, it’s not just length of life that’s important, but quality of life too, and having HIV can still severely damage your life’s chances. While so much has changed 30 years on from the start of the epidemic, condoms continue to be the best way to protect yourself and your partner from HIV in the first place.”