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HIV Diagnosis and Treatment Explained

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What Happens After an HIV Test? continued...

If your HIV test says you don't have the virus (a "negative" result), ask your doctor how soon you should have another screening. It’s possible to get a negative result when you have the virus if you’re tested too early after infection.

If your HIV test says you have the virus (a "positive" result), take heart: Because of medical advancements, many people now live long, active lives with HIV. You’ll want to begin working with your doctor, local public health department, or an HIV/AIDS organization to start treatment. You should tell all of your past and current sex partners about your diagnosis. (Your local health department may be able to help you notify them while keeping your identity secret.)  

Your health care provider can’t tell other people you have HIV without your permission. You may want to talk to a counselor for advice on how to share this news with your family and friends. Many HIV/AIDS testing locations have mental health professionals who can help. (Find one here.)

How Is HIV Treated?

There is no cure for HIV, but treatment options are much better than they were a few decades ago.

The medicines that treat HIV are called antiretroviral drugs. There are five types of them, and each uses a different way to fight the virus in your body. Your doctor will probably recommend that you take three different medicines from two of the five categories. Research shows that a mixture of drugs is the best way to control HIV and reduce the chances that it becomes resistant to treatment.

The drugs your doctor prescribes depend on your health history, how well your immune system is working, and even how many pills you want to take each day. You might also get medications for health problems caused by or related to your HIV.

The drugs can have side effects. Often, they go away as your body adjusts to the medication, but many people have some for a short time, including:

  • nausea  
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • skin rashes
  • trouble sleeping
  • pain, numbness, or tingling
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