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HIV Treatment: Coping With Side Effects

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Coping With Short-Term Side Effects of HIV Treatment

Side effects vary from person to person. For some, they are mild. For others, they interfere greatly with day-to-day life. You and your doctor should collaborate to manage treatment side effects.

If you know what to expect before you begin HIV therapy, you can develop a plan for coping. In some cases, you can take preventive therapies a few days before you start a new regimen. In other cases, a certain drug may have potentially life-threatening effects. If so, it's essential that you know what symptoms to look for.

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.

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