The main focus of this booklet is to get you thinking about HIV and your health. For many people, making decisions together with their doctors is a new experience. We sometimes just do as we're told with regard to taking pills or getting tests. But people with HIV have greatly influenced how people interact with their health providers. Because treating HIV can be complex, your ideas about what you're willing and ready to do are a critical part of any health decision.
Making decisions often means weighing the pros and cons of taking certain medicines, but it also involves figuring out when to start them and considering other things such as exercise or nutrition. Whenever you're faced with a new decision, it's wise to learn as much as you can about your options ahead of time, which can give you more control over your health.
In these pages, you'll find different topics that will help you make decisions best suited to you. We highlight three key areas: knowledge (what's useful to know), health (what can be helpful to do), and self-advocacy (how to get what you need). When these three areas work well together, you get better outcomes. Getting informed about HIV, being actively involved in your health, and talking things over with your doctor and support network can result in a longer, healthier life. We offer this information to help support, but not replace, the relationship with your health provider.
Earlier in the epidemic, HIV-positive people had to deal with more immediate health issues after being diagnosed than what they generally face today. People often had to react quickly rather than plan ahead for continued good health. This doesn't mean that people diagnosed today won't face certain health issues, but being forced to deal immediately with a problem occurs less often. Many people now have the time to carefully think about being on treatment before starting it, as well as time to plan treatment strategies for the next 10 or 20 years.
Over the years, many drugs have been approved, and public health care programs as well as private health insurance have greatly improved their HIV care, allowing more people to find and pay for stable medical care. Also, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals now have more experience treating HIV. There are many more resources available to you and your doctor.
Another difference is that opportunistic illnesses (OIs) occur less often today. Cases of pneumonia and other OIs are now seen mostly among those not aware of their HIV status who show up in emergency rooms for care due to advanced symptoms. But once you know you have HIV, you and your doctor can monitor your health well before these infections would normally appear.
Finally, today you have more treatment choices -- more than 20 HIV meds. You may still have to overcome hurdles related to health care coverage, but you likely have more time to get used to your diagnosis, explore your options, and more thoughtfully decide what's best. Today's treatments will help you and your doctor to individually tailor the medications you take.