5 Tips for People With HIV From Infectious Disease Experts

By

Kim S. Erlich, MD

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doctor looking at results with patient

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks your body’s immune system and is usually transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids. While there isn’t a cure for HIV, adherence to your doctor’s treatment plan can dramatically reduce the disease’s progress and can give patients a near-nomal lifespan. Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Kim Erlich offers these helpful tips for managing your HIV. 

1. Stick with your treatment regimen. It is the cornerstone of your health.

For HIV patients, taking your prescribed medicine regularly is critical. HIV drugs work to lower the amount of virus in your body, called the viral load. When patients aren’t taking their medicine regularly, the viral load increases; this makes you more susceptible to infections and raises your risk of transmitting the virus to others. Plus, skipping doses allows the virus to mutate and become resistant to the medicine, forcing you to try a new treatment. If you experience side effects from the drugs you’re taking, report this to your doctor, since other drugs can be prescribed instead. Don’t let side effects be a reason to fall off your regimen. There is a wide array of drugs available to people with HIV, so your doctor can help you find the right treatment plan for your body.

2. A healthy lifestyle makes all the difference.

We know treating HIV effectively requires a multipronged, holistic approach. I counsel patients to make healthy lifestyle choices like staying away from illegal drugs, cutting back on alcohol, and quitting smoking. These are all things that damage your health and make it harder for your body to fight the virus. We also know exercising, eating healthily, getting enough rest, and controlling your weight play an important role in living a full, healthy life with HIV.  

3. Learn how to manage stress.

Staying on top of a drug regimen, avoiding infections, and navigating the emotional stressors associated with a chronic condition can bring a lot of anxiety. Lifestyle changes like exercise, rest, and practicing self-care can greatly reduce stress and should be considered part of your treatment plan. Mental health is really critical. Some patients have asked me if they should continue working after getting an HIV diagnosis. I tell them that if their job gives them a sense of fulfillment and connection to other people, they should keep working. If their work environment brings a lot of added anxiety, they might consider making a change. This stress-reduction approach to lifestyle choices can help you manage your HIV and stay healthy.

4. Practice safe sex.

One of the biggest concerns for HIV-positive people is whether it’s safe to have sex. Safe, healthy sex is part of many people’s lives and this doesn’t have to change with HIV. However, it’s important to disclose your illness to your partner, practice safe sex, use condoms, and stay on your medication. If you stay on your prescribed treatment plan, your viral load should be suppressed enough to present a very low risk of transmission to your partner. To protect a partner who doesn’t have HIV, there is a preventative drug option called PrEP that people can take to avoid acquiring the virus.

5. Maintaining a good relationship with your doctor is key.

Although HIV can be effectively managed and patients can live a normal or near-normal lifespan, there is not yet a cure for the virus. This means that patients will have to monitor their condition their whole lives. They need to be evaluated and followed closely by a physician with expertise in HIV. Because HIV can be such an intimate illness for patients to handle, I recommend finding a physician you can trust and connect with. Having a good relationship with your doctor helps people keep on top of their regimen, stay healthy, and navigate the psychological component of the virus, as well.



THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.


Dr Erlich

Kim S. Erlich, MD

Kim S. Erlich, MD, is an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and is board certified in both Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease.
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