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Adjusting to Life on HIV Treatment: Tips From Experts

morning medications

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?"

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Andrew Lopez

Andrew Lopez

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.

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Joel Gallant, M.D.

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.

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Ben Young, M.D., Ph.D.

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.

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.

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.

Bart Majoor

Bart Majoor

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:

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