11 Things Your Doctor Wants You to Know About HIV
- What the Experts SayThe care and treatment of HIV infection has vastly improved in the last few decades. There are many ways to take control of your condition and get the most out of your care. We asked the experts to learn what you need to know about treating, managing and living with HIV infection and AIDS.
- 1. “It’s important to find an expert.”Although any doctor can treat HIV infection, it’s wise to find a specialist. “Working with an HIV expert has been shown to improve outcomes,” explains Joel Gallant, MD—chair of the HIV Medicine Association. The HIV expert can work with your primary care provider, who you can still see for other health issues.” Infectious disease medicine doctors are usually the specialists with the expertise to treat HIV.
- 2. “Help is available.”There are many resources available for people with HIV/AIDS, from transportation and housing assistance to nutrition and financial counseling. “If you aren’t being seen in a medical facility or office that provides these services, ask your doctor for a referral to a community-based group or other practice that does,” advises infectious disease doctor Judith Aberg, MD.
- 3. “Be consistent with your meds.”Taking your medication consistently is vital to suppress the virus and protect your partner from infection. It also keeps the disease from progressing. “Develop a routine so you don’t forget to take your medicine, and always plan ahead so you don’t run out,” says professor Adaora Adimora, MD. In addition, if you’re having side effects from medication, tell your doctor. “We will find a drug regimen you can tolerate well,” says Dr. Aberg.
- 4. “Record everything.”Keep your own records of your test results and medications. “If you move or change providers, it can be hard to track down the complete history,” says Dr. Gallant. “Your provider can make much better treatment decisions with that information.” Your own records can also help you remember and communicate details of your history to other healthcare providers, such as dentists and eye doctors.
- 5. “Kick the smoking habit.”It’s no secret smoking is bad for your health, and continuing to smoke when you have HIV/AIDS is not an option. “The number one way patients can improve their health is to quit smoking,” says Dr. Adimora. “Smoking can make it more difficult to fight off serious infections.” Talk with your doctor about cessation program options. Find support you need and don’t let setbacks stop you from quitting smoking.
- 6. “Stick to your therapy.”Natural remedies are sometimes marketed as alternative treatment options for HIV/AIDS. But experts urge patients to start and stick with conventional therapy. “HIV drug therapy is so highly effective that nothing else comes close,” says Dr. Gallant. “Experts now recommend beginning treatment as soon as you are diagnosed. These drugs are safe, effective, well-tolerated, and easy to take.”
- 7. “Ask about supplements.”Before you pop vitamins to boost your health, talk with your doctor. “Many vitamins and herbs—even vitamin C and garlic supplements—can interfere with HIV drug therapy and make it less effective,” says Dr. Adimora. “Don’t unknowingly sabotage your therapy.” Be sure to include supplement information in your personal records. And tell all your healthcare providers—including your pharmacist—about the supplements you take.
- 8. “Keep tabs on your mental health.”Despite advances in HIV care, there is still a social stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. Many people with the disease can suffer from depression or isolation. “Try to engage people you’re close to in your disease. Seek counseling if you are having mental or emotional difficulties,” advises Dr. Aberg. Ask for referrals and research mental health providers on Healthgrades.com to find one who suits your needs.
- 9. “Care for your whole body.”“HIV infection is now a chronic disease. Very few people will die from it,” explains Dr. Gallant. “But like everyone else, people with HIV need to reduce their other health risks, some of which may be magnified by HIV.” That means in addition to focusing on HIV treatment, people with HIV/AIDS need to exercise, eat a healthy diet, and get the recommended screening tests.
- 10. “Think about what HIV/AIDS means to you.”Treatment for HIV/AIDS means different things to different people. Perhaps you want to have a baby, are concerned about dating, or want to care for your grandchildren without worry of infection. “People with HIV/AIDS have very different lifestyles and are at different stages of the disease,” says Dr. Aberg. “Tell your doctor what the disease means to you. If we understand, we can better help.”
- 11. “Get out and vote.”So many aspects of healthcare, including treatment coverage and resources for people with HIV/AIDS, are decided by government representatives through public policy. “Pay attention to public policy. Who you vote for can have a tremendous impact on your care,” says Dr. Adimora.
11 Things Your Doctor Wants You to Know About HIV