HIV & Me: A Woman's Guide to Living With HIV: HIV in Women and Men: What's the Difference?
It's true that HIV doesn't discriminate. It's also true that HIV treatment works just as well in women as in men. However, there are differences between men and women when it comes to living with HIV -- in fact, living with HIV as a woman can often be more complicated than it is for a man.
More than half of HIV-positive women have children. As much as we adore and cherish our kids, they make life a lot more complicated. This can be especially hard when you have HIV: Raising kids makes it harder to stay on track with your doctor or clinic visits, and your children's needs can distract you from taking your medications on time.
However -- and we know you've heard this before, but it's so true -- making yourself a priority is one of the most important things you can do. To take care of your kids best, you need to survive this disease. If you need help, don't be afraid to seek it out.
It's a well-known fact that women in the United States make less money than men. But why is this important when it comes to HIV?
Not having enough cash means that you may struggle to get a babysitter so you can go to your medical visits. Not making enough money means that your job may not provide health insurance.
Fortunately, for people with HIV, there is help available in many states not only for medical care and medications, but for housing, transportation to and from the clinic, mental health care or other services.
"In my community in Baton Rouge, La., I'm probably the only minister who stands up, publicly and boldly, feeling beautiful and elegant, saying, 'I'm not just HIV positive, but I'm living with AIDS. And this is what AIDS looks like.'"-- Bishop Joyce Turner Keller, Ph.D., diagnosed in 2001
Although HIV meds appear to work just as well in women as in men, we know very little about the effects that HIV meds -- or even the virus itself -- can have on women in particular. This is because, throughout its history, HIV has mostly been studied in men, not women.
This is slowly changing, but there's still a huge amount we don't know. For this reason, it's extremely important to talk with your health care provider about any health problems you're having, whether you're on HIV meds or not. Don't assume that your problem isn't worth mentioning: It is.
Having HIV means that you're more likely to develop gynecological problems. If you've just been diagnosed, make sure you get a complete gynecological evaluation. In addition, be sure to see a gynecologist experienced with HIV at least once a year. Make sure you're checked for all sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HPV (human papillomavirus), genital herpes and pelvic inflammatory disease.
Some other tips: If you ever have a vaginal yeast infection, be sure to treat it early to avoid complications. Also be sure to have a Pap smear every six months for the first year after your HIV diagnosis -- and, if all is OK, once a year after that.
Remember that some women with HIV, especially those with a low CD4 count, experience irregular or long menstrual periods. Some HIV-positive women may also experience early menopause. Talk to your health care provider if you experience any of these symptoms or if you'd just like to learn more about them.