Best Ways to Battle HIV Fatigue

Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, MD on June 20, 2017Written by James Roland on September 29, 2014

Understanding HIV fatigue

Out of the many possible symptoms of HIV infection, fatigue is one that can have a subtle, yet profound, effect on your quality of life. Low energy can keep you from socializing, exercising, and even carrying out everyday tasks.

There are ways to battle HIV fatigue and reclaim some of that lost energy. First, it’s important to understand the possible causes of HIV fatigue. Then you can take steps to minimize its frequency and impact on your life.

About HIV

HIV targets your immune system. This results in your immune system being unable to get rid of the virus. HIV attacks and takes over T lymphocytes, also known as T cells, which help your body fight infection and disease. HIV uses those T cells to make copies of itself.

About HIV fatigue

If you have HIV infection, you may experience fatigue directly related to the virus. The simple presence of the infection can contribute to fatigue as your body uses energy trying to fight the infection. The virus also uses energy from your T cells when it makes copies of itself.

You may also have fatigue that is indirectly related to your HIV infection. Indirect causes of HIV fatigue can include:

Learning more about these indirect causes and how to help control them may be the first step in resolving your HIV fatigue.

Battling depression

Depression can often accompany a serious disease such as HIV infection. Depression can make you feel hopeless and sad and drain you of energy. Depression can also interfere with eating and sleeping patterns. People with depression are often less likely to exercise, which in turn can leave them feeling even more fatigued.

If you have HIV and are starting to develop symptoms of depression, you should speak to your doctor or a mental health professional. You may be able to overcome your depression with talk therapy and other means that don’t include medications. You may also find that alternative therapies, like meditation or yoga, help with depression.

Sometimes medication may be an option for HIV fatigue. A study in the journal Psychosomatics found that treatment with the medication armodafinil was able to help improve mood and overcome fatigue in some people with HIV. Armodafinil changes the amounts of certain substances in your brain. The drug is typically used to treat sleepiness in narcolepsy.

Battling insomnia

Insomnia is a condition that causes you to have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. In either case, a poor night’s sleep can leave you dragging the next day. To help battle insomnia, remember a few key tips:

  • Try to go sleep and wake up at the same times every day.
  • Keep a log of how you sleep so you can note changes in your sleeping patterns.
  • Don’t lie in bed awake and anxious. If you’re unable to sleep, move to a different part of your home. Rest until you feel tired enough to try sleeping in your bed again.
  • Try reading. Don’t watch TV or get on your phone or computer.
  • Avoid alcohol right before bed and caffeine late in the afternoon or evening.
  • Keep your room dark and cool, if possible, to create a sleep-friendly environment.

If you’re still having difficulty sleeping after trying these recommendations, speak with your doctor. They may recommend a sedative or hypnotic medication.

Battling HIV drug side effects

HIV medications are powerful drugs. If you find yourself feeling fatigued after starting a new drug regimen, tell your doctor. Trying a different drug or combination of HIV drugs may help.

Changing antiretroviral regimens is a serious undertaking. Changing regimens can increase your risk for developing a resistance to antiretroviral drugs. It’s also important to note that you should not stop taking your medication without discussing it with your doctor. Pausing antiretroviral medication can cause your HIV infection to become resistant to your medication.

If you feel that your HIV medication may be causing your fatigue, talk to your doctor. It may be possible to switch to a medication that doesn’t cause this symptom. It’s also important that you follow your doctor’s instructions to make the switch as safe as possible.

Battling idiopathic HIV fatigue

When the source of your fatigue can’t be linked to depression, insomnia, drug reactions, or other causes, it’s said to be idiopathic HIV fatigue. This means the cause of your fatigue is unknown.

Idiopathic HIV fatigue is common, but it’s hard to predict. You may experience it at any point in the day, and you may go days without feeling tired. The use of stimulants such as methylphenidate and dextroamphetamine may be helpful for some people. Your doctor may prescribe them for you to use every day or just when you start to notice fatigue.

Talk to your doctor

Many people with HIV experience fatigue. There are a host of treatments that may help resolve HIV fatigue. However, to pick the right treatment you need to know the cause. If you are experiencing HIV fatigue, talk to your doctor so that the two of you can pin down the specific cause and begin selecting a solution that is right for you.

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