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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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HIV Treatment: Coping With Side Effects

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The main goal of HIV treatment is to fight HIV in the body. But another goal is to do this without causing extreme side effects.

Many of the newer medications for HIV have fewer side effects. But if side effects are a problem, you can take measures to reduce or cope with them. If this isn’t enough, you may be able to change your treatment regimen to reduce the side effects.

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By 2013, almost 30 percent of all people with HIV were age 50 or over. This greying of the HIV population shows how well today’s HIV treatments can work. HIV makes aging itself more complicated. But plenty of people have had HIV for years, even decades, and are doing well. "These days, we fully expect that someone with HIV will live a long, healthy life," says Christine A. Wanke, MD, professor of medicine and director of the nutrition and infection unit at Tufts University School of Medicine. "But...

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Here are some common side effects of HIV treatment and tips for coping with them.

Before You Begin HIV Treatment

Thoroughly discuss your medical history with your doctor before you begin treatment. Be sure to tell your doctor about any supplements or drugs you're taking, including those that are:

  • Prescription
  • Over the counter
  • Recreational
  • Alternative therapies

Ask your doctor about potential side effects of HIV treatment so you know what to expect. It’s also important to know that side effects can be caused by something other than HIVmedications. These include:

  • HIV itself
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Infections
  • Stress
  • Diet
  • Aging
  • Other drugs

Short-Term Side Effects of HIV Treatment

HIV treatment can cause side effects for a brief period while it is controlling the virus in your body. Common short-term side effects include:

Although these side effects may bother you for a while, they frequently get better with time -- often within a few weeks. Make sure to get the support you need during this adjustment period. If side effects do not lessen, or if they are severe or unusual, tell your doctor right away. Your symptoms may be caused by something else, such as an infection.

If you have side effects, it may help to:

  • Deal with other factors that contribute to them, such as smoking or diet
  • Discuss with your doctor whether you can change the dose or the way you are taking the medication
  • Treat the side effect itself
  • Change to another treatment regimen

Don’t just change or stop taking a medication if you experience side effects. This is dangerous -- it can increase the risk of causing HIV to develop drug resistance. Let your doctor know what symptoms you are experiencing, immediately if necessary.

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