If you’ve recently tested positive for HIV, it’s common to have questions about how the diagnosis will affect your day-to-day life. The good news is that treatment with modern HIV drugs has improved greatly over the past few decades. It’s possible to manage the condition with minimal impact on your daily routine.
Bring this handy discussion guide along the next time you visit your doctor. Asking these questions will help you learn the best ways to stay healthy while living with HIV.
What are my treatment options?
Antiretroviral therapy can significantly slow the progression of HIV. It can also fortify the immune system, and greatly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others. Antiretroviral therapy typically involves taking several medications daily. This treatment is often referred to as an HIV regimen.
Deciding on your regimen is the first step on your treatment path. HIV medications are divided into seven drug classes based on how they combat HIV. Ask your doctor about which medications might work best for your regimen.
What are the health risks of HIV treatment?
It’s a good idea to discuss the potential health risks of antiretroviral therapy with your doctor before beginning treatment. Certain HIV medications may interact with others and could cause a range of side effects. Most of these side effects tend to be mild, such as headaches and dizziness. However, they can sometimes be more severe and even life-threatening.
There is also a risk that HIV medications may interact with other medications and vitamins. Make sure to tell your doctor if you’ve recently started taking any new drugs or supplements.
How often do I need to take HIV medication?
It’s important to be diligent about taking medication every day and exactly as prescribed for the treatment regimen to work properly. It’s useful to ask your doctor about strategies for sticking to your treatment plan. Some common tips include using a dedicated calendar or setting a daily reminder on your phone.
Missing doses of medication, or only taking it occasionally, increases the risk of drug resistance. This will reduce the effectiveness of the medications and may cause the condition to worsen.
How often should I schedule medical appointments?
It’s recommended that people living with HIV see their healthcare provider every three to six months for lab tests and a general consultation about how treatment is going. But it’s not uncommon to schedule visits more frequently, especially during the first two years of treatment.
Talk to your doctor about what type of check-up schedule they recommend. And work with them to create a plan for the upcoming year. Once you’ve been on a stable daily HIV regimen — and have had a consistently suppressed viral load for two years of antiretroviral therapy — the frequency of your lab tests will typically decrease to twice a year.
Do I need to change my diet and exercise routine?
Once you start taking medication, maintaining a balanced diet and an active lifestyle can help contribute to the success of your treatment. There’s no special diet for people living with HIV. However, since the immune system is working hard to fight infections, some people living with HIV find that they need to eat more calories. On the other hand, for those who are overweight, a doctor may recommend adjusting eating habits to help with weight loss.
In general, a well-balanced diet includes limited amounts of protein and fats, and plenty of:
- starchy carbohydrates
If you’re unsure about the best way to plan healthy meals, your doctor can offer advice or refer you to a dietitian.
Some people living with HIV may experience muscle loss, but regular exercise may preserve or strengthen muscles. The three main types of exercise are:
- resistance or strength training
- flexibility training
Work with your doctor to develop a regular fitness routine suited to your body’s needs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults get at least two and a half hours of moderate intensity aerobics every week, which can include things like walking, dancing, and gardening. The CDC also suggests participating in resistance training at least twice a week, on non-consecutive days. Make sure to check with your doctor before trying out any new exercises to avoid overdoing it.
How will my relationships change?
Talking about HIV with your social circle can be challenging and emotional, but that doesn’t mean that your relationships with the people you love will change in the long run. Your doctor can give you advice on the best way to discuss your HIV status with others. It’s important that people who are diagnosed with HIV inform any current or previous sexual partners about the diagnosis. Talking to trusted family members and friends can help you build up your personal support system.
Your doctor can also provide a referral to support services like mental health counseling. This can be helpful for people who want to speak with someone impartial about how they feel about living with HIV.
People living with HIV can maintain healthy sexual relationships with partners who are HIV-negative. Modern HIV treatments are so effective that the risk of transmitting the virus can be minimal. A partner who is HIV-negative might consider taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication to reduce their risk of HIV even more. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to keep both you and your partner safe.
Remember that when it comes to your health, every question is a good one. Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about how to maintain your day-to-day routine and your treatment plan.