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HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
Kai Chandler Lois Crenshaw Gary Paul Wright Fortunata Kasege Keith Green Lois Bates Greg Braxton Vanessa Austin Bernard Jackson

HIV & Me: A Guide to Living With HIV for African Americans
Step 5: Preparing to Start HIV Treatment

Once your health care provider recommends that you begin treatment, it's important to consider how treatment will change your life. Are you ready mentally, as well as physically, to take medications every day? Remember: Most HIV specialists say that you have to take your medications as prescribed, at least 95 percent of the time, to keep HIV under control and prevent it from becoming "resistant." HIV that is resistant can make your medications less effective.

Keith Green

"When I was first diagnosed, I thought I needed to live as if I were about to die.

"I dropped out of school, focused more on working full-time and partying. I was just kind of existing. And then I got to a point where I realized there were medications available that could help me live longer, and I just started to change my whole outlook."

Keith Green, diagnosed in 1994

To read more about Keith, click here.

This means you have to be certain that taking your medications will become a central part of your daily life. Be honest with your HIV specialist about anything that may make it more difficult for you to take all of your medications on time. If you have a case manager or a counselor, talk with them about this important issue as well.

Without a doubt, the commitment to taking HIV medications will be challenging. However, you have a good chance of keeping HIV under control with the very first combination of medications that works for you. If this combination successfully controls your HIV, and if you take each and every pill prescribed, you may not have to change medications for a long time.

What if you aren't always able to take all your medications on time?

This may cause your first combination of medications to fail. If this happens, it can get harder and harder to keep HIV under control with each new drug combination.

So it's crucial to identify a combination you can stick to, before you start treatment. Here are some things to consider:


One thing is certain: Taking medications daily will change your life. Suddenly, you'll have new responsibilities. You'll always have to be aware of the time, your schedule and changes in your routine. In some cases, you may have to schedule taking your HIV medicine around meals or take it with or without certain foods. You'll have to remember to take your pills with you when you go on vacation, go away for the weekend or go out at night. Even if you are depressed or busy, you will still have to take your medications as prescribed every single day. So, before you begin HIV treatment, you must ask yourself: "Am I really ready?"


All medications can have potential side effects -- even aspirin. Not everyone experiences side effects from HIV medications, which can range from mild to severe. Because you really want to give this first combination your best shot, talk to your doctor and read about the possible side effects of the medications you are thinking of taking. This can help you not only plan how to manage side effects if they arise, but to choose medications whose possible side effects you can manage.

YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND YOUR MENTAL HEALTH ARE CRITICAL. If you are feeling depressed, using recreational drugs or living on a friend's couch, it may be unrealistic to assume you'll be able to take all your medications all the time. It's also a good idea to get some support. This way it will be easier for you to follow a strict treatment plan. It helps a lot to have friends, family, a support group or a therapist you can rely on while you are on a treatment regimen -- especially at the beginning when you are still adjusting.


Researchers are still hard at work learning how the side effects of HIV medications can differ in African Americans. Here's what they have found out so far:

  • African Americans seem to be a bit more likely than other people to experience side effects from the HIV medication Sustiva, which can cause sleeping problems and wild dreams. However, "studies suggest that this is so in only 20 percent of black people," says Dr. Pablo Tebas, an HIV researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Sometimes, being African American can offer protection from some of the side effects HIV meds are known to cause. One study found that African Americans on HIV treatment were less likely to develop high cholesterol and high triglycerides (potential heart disease risks) than HIV-positive people of other races.

    In addition, when African Americans take a medication called Ziagen, because of something in their genes, they seem less likely to experience an allergic reaction. (Ziagen is also found in two other HIV medications: Epzicom and Trizivir.)

More From This Resource Center

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This article was provided by TheBody. It is a part of the publication HIV and Me: An African American's Guide to Living With HIV.

See Also
African-American HIV/AIDS Resource Center


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