Avoiding certain behaviors helps ensure your HIV treatment works over the long haul
Recent advances in HIV treatment further solidify the virus is no longer an automatic death sentence, but a manageable, chronic disease. Still, there can be challenges that stand in the way of successful treatment. Learn more about eight treatment mistakes you could be making and how to avoid them.
Not seeking medical care from an HIV specialist. Infectious disease specialists, like the physicians who treat HIV, know what’s happening with HIV—from the latest research to where to find quality care for underinsured patients. They are best suited to track changes and concerns with your treatment plan.
Not following your HIV treatment plan. Taking your medication consistently is critical for HIV-positive people. Adherence prevents treatment failure and drug resistance. Side effects, depression and the cost of meds are the most commonly cited reasons people give for stopping treatment. Talk to your medical care team if you’re tempted to quit your treatment plan.
Forgetting to take your medication. To keep your HIV viral load low, missing doses is an absolute no-no. If your memory is like a sieve, install a medication reminder app on your phone, set alarms on your calendar or invest in a pillbox.
Not reporting HIV symptoms to your doctor. If HIV symptoms flare, your treatment regimen isn’t working effectively. Tell your doctor right away so your viral load can be tested and your meds adjusted, if necessary. The good news: We now have a lot of medication options to treat HIV.
Being in denial about treatment challenges. If you’re experiencing challenges with HIV treatment—medication side effects, cost, your emotional state, housing or employment—speak up. Your doctor can direct you to a social worker or resource program that can connect you with the services you need.
Avoiding the dentist. Being HIV-positive increases your risk of developing advanced gum and tooth disease. A compromised immune system because of an oral infection can lead to other health problems. Brush and floss every day. And see your dentist every six months.
Taking dietary supplements. Mixing dietary supplement with your HIV medications is asking for trouble. For instance, St. John’s wort, taken in conjunction with certain HIV medications, can make the medications less effective and increase your risk of developing HIV drug resistance. Talk with your doctor before taking any supplement.
Abusing alcohol or drugs. Anything that weakens your immune system is a nonstarter, because it’s harder for your body to fight infections with an impaired immune system. Alcohol also increases the risk of HIV medication side effects. Smoking marijuana can irritate the lungs, making you more susceptible to infections such as pneumonia. Worse, alcohol and illicit drugs impact your liver, the clearinghouse for chemical waste in your body. An overtaxed liver can’t function properly, which can leave you feeling exhausted.