We asked a range of knowledgeable HIV doctors, nurses, treatment advocates and other HIV care providers to answer this question: "What key piece of advice do you have for HIV-positive people who have just started treatment and are adjusting to life on HIV meds?"
HIV Case Manager & Volunteer Coordinator, Native American AIDS Project, San Francisco, Calif.
Starting HIV medications can be a very overwhelming process for many people, especially for the younger (under 25) and newly diagnosed populations. Taking a pill every day is a subtle reminder that you are HIV positive and that can discourage some people from sticking to their regimen due to depression or fear of others finding out.Show More
A few things to keep in mind: First, those pills are going to preserve your immune system from being assaulted by HIV, and ultimately cause you to have fewer complications from living with HIV. In addition, getting your viral load undetectable makes you less likely to transmit the virus to sex partners. Another big concern for people adjusting to medications is the side effects from the meds. The key thing with side effects is that theyre your body's response to now having this medication in its system every day; once your body adjusts to the medications (sometime between two and four weeks), most of your side effects will subside.
Just keep sticking to your regimen and give it some time. If you are having trouble remembering when to take your pills or if you took your pills, try using a pill tray -- that way you will always know if you took your meds or not by simply looking at the tray.
Joel Gallant, M.D.
Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, Division of Infectious Diseases, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) isn't as hard as it used to be. Simple, once-daily combinations are now the norm, and we may soon have a number of single-tablet regimens available. Side effects and drug toxicity haven't disappeared completely, but they're no longer inevitable.Show More
Starting ART is sometimes a trial and error process, and drug switches may be necessary before you're on a combination that agrees with you. Before you start, make sure you understand how your meds should be taken, the possible side effects, and how to contact your provider if you have problems.
Making switches is OK, but stopping and restarting therapy can create resistance, so if there's a problem, don't stop treatment: Talk to your provider about managing side effects or switching drugs.
Ben Young, M.D., Ph.D.
Executive Medical Director, Rocky Mountain CARES, Boulder, Colo.
Remember to stay in communication with your health care provider or care manager if you have any problems with adherence or side effects. Read TheBody.com's forums for real-life Q&A. Many of the concerns that you may have, others have had before you.
Know that an HIV medication regimen can be very well tolerated with few or no side effects and limited impact to one's daily activities. If your medications force a significant change in when and how you do things, it might be time to have a conversation with your care team.
Sharon Lee, M.D., F.A.A.F.P.
Executive Director, Family Health Care, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan.
The rigors of taking medicine are significant and must be reckoned with, but there are many options today, so don't get discouraged. When early medical care and medications are accessible, living with HIV in this century becomes more of an inconvenience and much less the harbinger of death that it was in the last century. So, get on treatment and get on with your life!
Bethsheba Johnson, G.N.P.-B.C., A.A.H.I.V.S.
Associate Medical Director, St. Hope Foundation, Houston, Texas
Remember that this is a lifetime commitment. It is not like taking a course of antibiotics and then you're done. You should take them as they are prescribed in order to stay alive and have the best quality of life possible. Although you may feel good and look good now, stopping the medication without your health care provider's input is a dangerous idea. If you have side effects, remember they will usually resolve over a period of two to four weeks. Try to hang in there so that you don't become a hot mess.
Psychologist; Deputy and Clinical Director, St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction, Bronx, N.Y.
Some members of our support group for HIV-positive people shared their core advice for people who are just starting to take their HIV medication, since they are the experts:Show More
A.: My advice is to be consistent taking the meds and never stop taking them. Always take your meds when you go somewhere. Never sell your meds under any circumstances! One more thing that is very important: Keep a time schedule when taking the HIV medications.
E.: I would mention how important it is to take your medication. Also, that side effects are different in each person. Some side effects are mental and some are physical, but no matter how the side effects affect you, it is important to take your meds as prescribed. Side effects can be: changes in bodily temperature, appetite, and body weight. Also, there can be changes in attitude and mental capacity.
L.: My boyfriend took a shot which was one of his AIDS medications. It made him so sick that it scared me so much. My advice is, no matter what the side effects are, you have to take your medication and bear with your loved ones.
J. and N.: Do not miss a day of taking meds. Drink as much water as you can. Eat as healthy as you can. Try to limit your use of alcohol and drugs.