How to Manage HIV Symptoms and Complications
The medical community has come a long way in helping HIV-positive patients manage their symptoms within the past few decades. If you are proactive in managing HIV, you can still enjoy a high quality of life. A study even found that 20-year-olds who started antiretroviral therapy (ART) within the past 10 years and responded well to it can live as long as a person without HIV.
The Importance of Antiretroviral Therapy
Fortunately, there are many ways for HIV-positive patients to ease their symptoms at home or with the guidance of a medical professional, but those changes won’t prove as effective if you don’t also combine them with ART. While researchers are making headway into HIV protection and management, there is still no cure for HIV. Letting the virus multiply without trying to suppress it can lead to a poor quality of life and even death.
Out of all the people living with HIV in 2015, an estimated 15 percent of teens and adults had not yet received a diagnosis, and an estimated 44 percent of teens and young adults did not know they had the virus. The early stages of HIV infection can be symptomless, so it is important that you receive HIV/AIDS testing, especially if you are a gay or bi man, African American, Hispanic/Latino or if you use or have used syringes.
Simple Changes That Can Help You Manage HIV
People with HIV may experience many uncomfortable symptoms and side effects from the virus itself and any ART they are undergoing. These include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Redistribution of body fat (lipodystrophy)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty swallowing
- Cotton mouth
- Anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders
Fortunately, there are a number of changes you can make to your daily routine to ease these symptoms and side effects.
#1 Changing Your Diet
Many people focus on the immune system effects of HIV and ART, but undernutrition and weight loss are just as important. What we eat shapes the way our body functions. Just as we can damage our health with high-sugar desserts and fried meals, we can help it operate optimally by feeding it nutritious food high in vitamins and minerals.
If you have HIV, it may feel uncomfortable to eat because you do not feel hungry or you experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea after eating. However, it’s crucial you eat a balanced diet; you may even need to consume more protein and calories than the average person to maintain your weight. Try splitting your food into smaller meals every few hours, and limit yourself to more mildly flavored foods – rather than spicy, sugary, fatty, or fried foods – to reduce the risk of upsetting your stomach. Avoid drinking water right before meals or carbonated drinks like soda, as this can trick your stomach into feeling full.
You’ll also need to take precautions against foodborne illness. This means you’ll have to cook foods thoroughly before eating and avoid cross-contaminating cooking surfaces or ingredients.
For more details on how you can manage HIV symptoms, check out this dietary guide from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
#2 Exercising Regularly
Exercise is beneficial to everyone, but can be especially helpful for managing the symptoms and side effects of HIV and ART. Working out regularly can improve your cardiovascular function, reduce the risk of diabetes and strengthen the body. Regular moderate exercise can relieve stress and tire you out enough to sleep at night, which may help you manage anxiety, depression or other disorders and reduce insomnia. Exercise may even bolster your immune system, although evidence of this claim is still inconclusive.
Additionally, many people with HIV become self-conscious about their weight loss and fat redistribution, especially if it makes them feel less like themselves. Exercise, especially weight training, may help you achieve the look you desire and add bulk to your frame. While this is only one small benefit, it may make a world of difference if you struggle with body image.
#3 Receiving Mental Health Counseling
Experts believe that those with HIV are at increased risk of developing mental health disorders like depression. People experiencing mental distress often benefit from seeing a professional, such as a psychologist, counselor or therapist, to work through their fears and concerns aloud. There are many forms of therapy, so if one doesn’t work or you don’t click with a certain therapist, realize there are other options out there.
HIV-positive patients may also benefit from a HIV support group. HIV can be an isolating condition at times, so it can help to hear from others in a similar situation who can offer meaningful support and guidance.
You may find you want or need medicine to manage a mental health disorder. Be sure to speak with both a psychiatrist and your regular doctor to find out what medications are safe to take in conjunction with ART.
#4 Avoiding Opportunistic Infections
HIV inhibits our body’s ability to fight off illness. This is why so many HIV-positive people experience complications from basic illnesses the human body should be able to fight off easily, like colds.
If you are HIV positive, consider taking special precautions around cold and flu season, like washing your hands more often and sanitizing infected surfaces. You may want to avoid sick people at work or school or bypass germ-infested public areas like malls or airports during peak illness times, depending on the strength of your immune system. You will also need to be strict with your health by visiting your doctor for routine checkups and immunizations. A face mask may be an effective way to avoid breathing in bacteria and viruses when you must go out in public during cold or flu season.
#5 Scheduling Regular Doctor’s Appointments
While all ART drugs are effective on some level, you may find that you need to add drugs to your medical regimen or remove any drugs that cause unwanted side effects as your body adjusts and changes. It’s important to discuss any symptoms and side effects with your doctor so they can help you better manage HIV. Above all else, it’s crucial you take your medicine exactly as prescribed. Starting and stopping medications can give the virus a window to mutate, rendering the drugs ineffective against the new form of the virus.
Receive STD Testing and HIV/AIDS Care at St. Hope Foundation in Texas
HIV is still a highly misunderstood disease, but you can find the information you need to manage your symptoms and side effects at St. Hope Foundation. Our HIV specialists have undergone rigorous training and are credentialed by the American Academy of HIV Medicine so they can provide you with high-quality medical care. We offer STD screening, nutritional counseling, access to up-and-coming therapies and much more to our HIV-positive patients.