The main goal of HIV treatment is to fight the virus in your body. Almost as important is trying to do this without causing unpleasant, unhealthy side effects.
Side effects vary from person to person. For some, they're mild. For others, they get in the way of daily life.
Ask your doctor about what you can expect from your treatment so you know what to prepare and watch out for. Certain drugs may have potentially life-threatening side effects, so it's essential that you know what to look for.
Feeling "off" can also be caused by:
- HIV itself
- Conditions you had before you got HIV
- Other drugs
You should work with your doctor to figure out what's causing your symptoms and to make your side effects less of a problem.
Keep taking your HIV medications. It's dangerous to change how you're taking them -- or to stop altogether -- if you're unhappy with how you feel or how they affect you. That can make it easier for the HIV virus to become resistant to drugs and harder to treat.
Short-Term Side Effects
When you first start ART or a new antiretroviral drug, you may have side effects as your body adjusts to it. Although these may bother you for a while, they often get better within a few weeks. Sometimes, you can do or take something a few days before you begin or change your medications to prevent or lessen its side effects.
If your symptoms don't get better, or if they're severe or unusual, tell your doctor right away. They may be caused by something else.
You can manage most common, short-term side effects with changes to your lifestyle or habits. Don't smoke, do eat well, and try to exercise every day. Reach out for support if you need to.
Your doctor may also be able to change your dose, how you take the medicine, or switch you to a different drug.
Fatigue . Try brief 20-30 minute naps. Cut back your work schedule if you can. Balanced meals will give your body fuel, and gentle exercise can boost your energy. Anemia, a problem with red blood cells, is also a common side effect and could cause fatigue.
Feeling queasy and throwing up. Avoid foods that trigger these. Ginger -- in ginger ale, ginger tea, or gingersnaps -- may help settle your tummy. Eat some crackers in the morning. Stick with small meals and cold foods. Drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. Don't take antacids or other over-the-counter products unless your doctor says it's OK.
Insomnia . Limit caffeine, and avoid heavy meals close to bedtime. It may be tempting, but try not to take daytime naps; stay on a regular sleeping schedule. Try relaxing bedtime habits such as warm baths, warm milk, soothing music, or massage to tell your body it's time to sleep.
Reactions where you've been stuck by a needle. Check with your doctor to make sure your injection technique is good. Change your injection sites so you give your skin and tissues a chance to heal. Warm the medicine in your hands before you inject it, and apply a cold pack to the area afterward.
Remember: All of these can be signs of an underlying problem unrelated to your HIV treatment, too. If you also have belly pain, a fever, a stiff neck, or have a hard time breathing, call your doctor right away. If you're struggling to breathe, call 911.
Long-Term Side Effects
Some side effects may not go away or could cause serious problems. Yet there is often a way to manage them so that they're less troublesome.
Fat redistribution. Your body may change the way it makes, uses, and stores fat. This is called lipodystrophy. You might lose fat in your face and legs while gaining it in your belly and the back of your neck. You might be able to switch medications to keep symptoms from getting worse, but there are few other options for dealing with this.
Higher cholesterol or triglyceride levels. These can raise your risk for problems such as heart disease. Diet and other lifestyle changes are a first step. You doctor may also want you to take medications such as statins and fibrates.
Loss of bone density. You could be more likely to get broken bones, especially as you get older. Try weight-bearing exercises like walking or weight lifting. Check with your doctor about taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. You may need medications to treat or prevent osteoporosis.