Before you start treatment, tell your doctor about all of your past health issues and illnesses. Let them know about any alternative or complementary therapies you're using, as well as any supplements or drugs you're taking now: prescription, over-the-counter, and recreational.
Daily medication and regular testing can help keep the virus under control and slow the effects on your body for many years.
ART (Antiretroviral Therapy)
The medicines that treat HIV are called antiretroviral drugs. There are more than two dozen of them, and they fall into six main types. Each drug fights the virus in your body in a slightly different way.
Research shows that a combination, or "cocktail," of drugs is the best way to control HIV and lower the chances that the virus becomes resistant to treatment. Your doctor will probably recommend that you take three different medicines from two of the groups.
Which specific ones your doctor prescribes depends on what other medical conditions you have or are likely to get, how well your immune system is working, and even how many pills you want to take each day.
You might also need medicines for health problems caused by or related to your HIV.
Medication Side Effects
The ART drugs can have side effects, although newer medications usually don't cause as many. You'll probably have some for a short time. They might include:
- Feeling queasy or throwing up
- Skin rashes
- Trouble sleeping
- Pain, numbness, or tingling
Often, side effects will go away as your body adjusts to the medication.
If a side effect is bothersome, you may be able to do something about it. Check with your pharmacist or doctor about whether or not you should take your medications on an empty stomach. Let your doctor know you're having trouble. He might prescribe something to help or change your treatment regimen to lessen the impact.
Don't stop taking your ART. That could give HIV a chance to get stronger and do more damage.
You'll need ongoing tests to help your doctor plan your treatment and to see how well it's working. You may need more tests before you start some treatments, if you change medicines, and to watch drug levels.
A CD4 count tells your doctor how healthy your immune system is. HIV attacks your CD4 cells, and the test checks the number of them you have in a sample of your blood. You'll likely get your CD4 count tested every 3 to 6 months.
The viral load is a measure of how much of the HIV virus is in your blood. You'll probably need to get tested every 3 or 4 months to be sure your antiviral medications are still working.
Your doctor will also test you to make sure the strain of HIV you have isn't resistant to any drugs. Sometimes HIV will change, or mutate, into a form that certain medicines can't treat.
Other tests check on your health to help you avoid related illnesses and conditions.
- Blood tests for anemia, blood sugar, and other conditions as well as making sure specific organs and other parts of your body are working right
- Urine tests that check your kidneys
- Cholesterol and triglyceride tests, because HIV and many of the antiretroviral drugs that treat it can raise the levels of these fats
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, and chlamydia
- Infections and diseases such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, and toxoplasmosis