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Health: Getting Involved in Your Well-Being
Part Two of Three in Project Inform's "After You've Tested Positive" Booklet

January 2013

Getting Into Care as Soon as Possible

Getting into care can improve your quality of life even before you start treatment. This is because people with HIV often have other health problems (such as depression or high blood pressure) that should be treated. You and your doctor will need to assess your health and begin to plan for the future.

Many people develop a more assertive attitude about their well-being when they find out they have HIV. Because HIV treatment can be complicated, making decisions about when, how and whether to start isn't always easy. One positive step is to play a part in your health care decisions. Another is communicating thoughtfully with your provider(s).

Some issues in your life may make it hard for you to see a doctor regularly, such as drug and/or alcohol use, unstable housing or lack of insurance and other resources. These issues can be addressed as you establish your HIV care. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a case manager or social worker. (See "Lining Up Support.")

Main Points to Remember

Helpful Resources

AAHIVM Directory (see ReferralLink on right)
GLMA Directory (click FIND A PROVIDER at top)
HIVMA Directory (click FIND AN HIV PROVIDER at top)

Developing a Relationship With Your Doctor(s)

Developing a Relationship With Your Doctor(s)

Many people simply do what they're told when it comes to their health. So actively working with your doctor may be a new experience. It may feel odd at first, and some doctors are unfamiliar with patients asking lots of questions or questioning their advice. Either way, relationships take effort on both ends. If you decide that your provider isn't right for you, it's sometimes possible to switch to someone else.

People who take a more active role in making their own health care decisions tend to have better overall health. You may find that developing a closer relationship with other staff in your doctor's office, like a nurse practitioner (NP) or physician's assistant (PA), can help. Talking to a pharmacist is another resource. You may also be able to get second opinions from other doctors your friends or family see.

Main Points to Remember

Helpful Resource

Patient/Doctor Relationship

Your First Few Doctor Visits

Your First Few Doctor Visits

The first few visits after your diagnosis are important for you and your doctor. They are the foundation for what you learn about HIV and how you and your doctor will work together to treat it.

Your first visit to a doctor after your diagnosis can be an emotional time. Many doctors are sensitive and caring, and respond well to your needs. However, they have time constraints and are there to provide medical care, not necessarily emotional support. Friends, family, support groups, social workers and therapists can help with emotional support.

If possible, you may want to interview doctors before you make a final decision on who you want to see. You have the right to make sure you're comfortable with your provider and to seek other help if the relationship isn't working for you, though this is not always possible.

It's important to get a full exam and medical history. Be open and honest about what you know about your health. Some conditions such as diabetes and hepatitis C can complicate treating HIV, so knowing about them early and talking about them helps to ensure your health.

Below is a list of common tests your doctor should run to assess your health.

health care professional and patient

Think About Your General Health

Many people find that as they adjust to living with HIV their diagnosis can motivate them to seek help and taking charge of many aspects of their lives. Take the time to explore ways to improve your health. Some of these are found on page 15.

For example, stopping smoking can greatly reduce health risks within the first year or two of quitting. Some foods (those high in sugar and saturated fats) can contribute to conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Stress causes chemicals to release in the body that affect the immune system. Engaging in safer sex prevents you from getting sexual infections, and helps prevent transmission of HIV to your partner(s).

Depression is common among people with HIV. Recognizing and properly treating it can help you make better health decisions. Excessive alcohol and drugs can harm the liver and other organs, and make it harder to take your HIV meds regularly. Certain techniques such as stress reduction can improve health.

Main Points to Remember

Helpful Resources

Maintain Your General Health
Nutrition & Diet Tips

Ways to Improve Your Health

Consider Other Issues in Your Life

Consider Other Issues in Your Life

Some health issues such as "street drug" abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues and homelessness can be very difficult to face on your own. Finding supportive people you trust can be an essential first step. Social services, support groups and supportive friends and family can be very helpful as you pursue bringing more health into your life.

Support groups for all types of issues (including HIV) can improve an individual's health. Being able to tell your story to people who understand can be very healing and such groups are rich with advice about how to deal with the issues you face. Although more AIDS service organizations are found near cities, no matter where you live you can usually find case managers, social workers or peers who can help connect you with local services that can help you with the issues you face.

Main Points to Remember

Previous: Knowledge -- Getting Informed About HIV | Next: Self-Advocacy -- Learning to Support Yourself
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