Treatment & side-effects
When your doctor feels it is time, they will recommend that you start medication for HIV. This can be a very daunting time, as this could be the first time being HIV positive seriously affects your lifestyle. HIV treatments need to be taken daily and at regular intervals.
Also many treatments have side effects and managing these can be difficult. Many side effects show up in the first weeks of treatment and eventually lessen in severity.
Whether the side effects are mild, moderate or severe, it is crucial that you know how to handle them. Side effects are one of the main reasons people stop taking their medication — or take less than prescribed. This is dangerous as the HIV virus can become resistant and treatment may not work.
Modern HIV treatments in the form of antiretroviral therapy have improved the lives of many people living with HIV. Indeed, it is thanks to these drugs that people are now living with HIV rather than dying of AIDS.
However, there still remains no cure for HIV, and treatments are life long. Due to the nature of HIV medication, treatments need to be taken at the same time everyday and may need to be taken more than once. It is also important to note that not everyone finds a treatment that works straight away.
Therefore, some people find that they may have to switch treatments until the right one is found. This can be a worrying and stressful time for the person living with HIV, as well as their friends and relatives.
Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
Post Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP for short, it is a course of medication designed to stop HIV from infecting someone after it has entered the body - consisting of a course of anti-HIV tablets, that have the potential to prevent HIV infection.
PEP is not always successful, and should not be thought of as a ‘morning after pill’ for HIV. Infact, PEP is a month long treatment, and can have a variety of side effects. In order for PEP to have a chance of working it should be taken within 72 hours of possible infection. PEP cannot cure HIV, it can only prevent possible infection.
Side effects from PEP can be severe, and time off work is usually needed. Typical side effects can include diarrhoea, headaches, feeling sick and vomiting. PEP is available from sexual health clinics or hospitals (usually A&E departments).
GPs will not usually be allowed to prescribe PEP. However, there are strict guidelines to who can have PEP, and it is not a substitute for condoms.
For many people, HIV treatments can be uncomfortable, with many undesirable side effects. These side effects can include:
- Extreme tiredness
- Loss of weight
- Increase risk of cancer
- Change in body shape
- Yellow eyes
- Facial wasting
- Joint pains
HIV also still carries a stigma with it, and many people continue to be unfairly discriminated against. This obviously has an impact on someone living with HIV, and many people feel they can not disclose their status – even to their friends and family.
Don't just take it from us. Here are some quotes from people living with HIV who are part of the amazing George House Trust Positive Speakers programme - these people volunteer their time to travel around the country and talk at events about their experiences of HIV.
"The process of managing HIV is not straightforward and it is not without physical and mental cost."
"It would be great just for one day not to have to think about HIV and how it affects me."
"Having HIV doesn’t mean I don’t have sex. But it does mean I can’t think about having sex without being reminded I am positive."
"HIV, it’s manageable but definitely not glamorous, it’s not the next designer label to have."