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Living With HIV: Staying Healthy and Avoiding Complications

How to Decrease the Risk of Complications with HIV

Many factors contribute to how successfully you can manage HIV complications. This includes other medications you’re taking or conditions you have, such as tuberculosis. It also depends on your tolerance to side effects and schedules for certain medications, and which alternative regimens are available for you.

Try these strategies to help lower your risk of HIV complications and stay healthier with HIV:

  • Take medications as directed.  Drugs can stop working if you don't take them exactly at the right time in the right way each day. For example, if you are using a drug twice a day, try to take it 12 hours apart. If this is difficult for you to maintain, talk with your doctor about a once-a-day regimen. 
  • Prevent drug interactions. Tell your doctor about all other medications you're taking, including over-the-counter and recreational drugs, and supplements. Antacids, for example, can interact poorly with atazanavir.  
  • Be screened for the most common complications. Your doctor can screen for some of the more common complications of HIV, including risk factors for heart disease and stroke, as well as bone and kidney disease. "Malignancies are more difficult to plan for or head off at the pass," Gandhi says. "But there are multiple malignancies that should be screened for in HIV-infected patients."
  • Move toward a healthier lifestyle. You're managing your HIV well, but still smoking, not exercising, and eating a poor diet. What’s wrong with this picture? Taiwo challenges his smoking patients by saying, "Maybe you should just continue smoking and not take any medications because at this rate you're more likely to die from cancer or heart attack than from HIV." If you need help stopping a health-compromising habit, get it.

Lifestyle changes can improve even some cholesterol problems related to HIV medications and, of course, bolster health. For example, many people with HIV are low in vitamin D, which has been linked with a number of conditions.

"A lot is in your hands," Gandhi says. Be very vigilant about your overall health and remember that your doctor is your partner in this effort. She suggests saying this to your health care provider: "I'm not just here to manage my HIV infection, but to hopefully live for a very long time. So why don't you tell me all the ways I can do that?"

Reviewed on September 30, 2010

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