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HIV Treatment: Coping With Side Effects

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Coping With Short-Term Side Effects of HIV Treatment continued...

Stay in regular contact with your health care provider, who can help determine whether symptoms are drug side effects or something else.  

These tips may help cope with short-term side effects:

  • Fatigue. Try brief naps, cutting back your work schedule, eating balanced meals, and doing gentle exercise.
  • Nausea and vomiting. Avoid foods that trigger these responses. Eat some crackers in the morning or try ginger (in ginger ale, ginger tea, or gingersnaps). Eating small meals and cold food may also help. Drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. Do not take antacids. 
  • Diarrhea. Make sure to get plenty of fluids and stay hydrated. Talk to your doctor about over-the-counter anti-diarrhea products that are safe to take.
  • Headaches. An over-the-counter pain reliever may help; stay rested, drink plenty of fluids, and stay away from loud noise and bright light.
  • Insomnia. Limit caffeine, heavy meals close to bedtime, and daytime naps. Keep a regular sleeping schedule and try relaxing bedtime rituals such as warm baths, warm milk, soothing music, or massage.
  • Rashes. Avoid long, hot showers or baths and skin products with alcohol or harsh chemicals. Try moisturizing lotions and sunscreen, and petroleum jelly on dry, itchy areas.
  • Injection site reactions. Discuss injection technique with your doctor. Rotate injection sites, warm the medicine in your hands before injecting, and apply a cold pack after an injection.
  • Pain or peripheral nerve problems. Wear loose-fitting shoes, soak your feet in ice water, massage them, and try ibuprofen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories.
  • Dry mouth. Suck on sugarless candies or lozenges or chew sugarless gum. Drink plenty of liquids. Avoid sugary or sticky foods or caffeine.
  • Weight loss. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about ways you can maintain a healthy weight. For example, high-protein shakes as well as other products high in protein and low in sugar may be recommended for some people.

Remember: All these symptoms can be signs of an underlying problem unrelated to the HIV treatments. If symptoms are severe, prolonged, or accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal pain, fever, stiff neck, or difficulty breathing, then you need to seek medical attention.

Coping With Long-Term Side Effects of HIV Treatment

Some side effects may last indefinitely or cause serious problems. Even in these cases, there is often a way to manage them so that they are less troublesome. Your doctor can help you with this.

Some of the most common long-term side effects and coping strategies include:

  • Fat redistribution. Known as lipodystrophy, this can occur when the body changes the way it produces, uses, and stores fat. You might lose fat in your face and legs and gain fat in your abdomen and back of your neck. Switching medications may keep symptoms from getting worse. But there are few other options for treating this long-term side effect.
  • Increases in cholesterol or triglycerides. This can increase the risk for problems such as heart disease. Diet and other lifestyle changes are a first step. Medications such as statins and fibrates may also be recommended by your doctor.
  • Elevated blood sugar levels. Exercise, weight management, and other lifestyle changes may help. Your doctor may also recommend other medications to control blood sugar levels.
  • Decreases in bone density. This can increase the risk of bone fractures, especially as you get older. Try weight-bearing exercises like walking or weight lifting. Your doctor may recommend calcium and vitamin Dsupplements, or medications to treat or prevent osteoporosis.
  • A buildup of a cellular waste product. Known as lactic acidosis, this uncommon issue can cause a wide range of problems, from muscle aches to liver failure. You may need to switch drugs.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on September 01, 2012
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