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Living Your Healthiest Life with HIV

Tuesday 12 May 2020
6 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. What is HIV?

II. Take your medications

III. Avoiding infections

IV. Tobacco, alcohol, and drug consumption

V. Diet and exercise

VI. Maintaining open communication

What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a serious condition that affects tens of millions of people around the world. Medical technology and information about HIV have increased significantly over the years. Treatment plans have also improved leaps and bounds from the 1980s when the virus was first identified. Medications like Kaletra and Isentress can vastly improve your everyday life and condition.

HIV affects the immune system and the CD4 or T cells (white blood cells). In a body infected with HIV, the virus destroys the CD4 cells and the stages of HIV progress as less and less white blood cells are present. Having fewer white blood cells makes a person vulnerable to opportunistic infections and conditions. 

It is important to follow your doctor’s antiretroviral therapy (ART) as well as enact healthy lifestyle practices. Read on to learn more about how to stay healthy while living with HIV.

Take your medications

The key to healthy management of your HIV involves following your treatment plan and attending all medical appointments. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is pertinent to living a long life and the typical ART treatment involves a combination of several different classes of drugs. Your doctor decides which drugs to give you based on your T cell count, the severity of your case, and how far the HIV has spread. 

multi-colored pills on an orange background

The following are some examples of the different classes of drugs used for ART:

Integrase strand transfer inhibitors (INSTIs): These drugs stop the integrase enzyme that HIV uses to infect T cells. One common drug is Isentress, sometimes referred to by its generic name raltegravir. 

Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs): These drugs work by interrupting the life cycle of the virus as it tries to copy itself. Some of these drugs have also been approved for the treatment of chronic hepatitis. 

Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs): These drugs work the same way as NRTIs. They also stop the virus from replicating itself.

Protease inhibitors (PIs): PIs work by binding to an enzyme called protease. HIV needs this enzyme to replicate and when it can’t do its job, the virus can’t make new copies of itself. 

Combination NRTIs: There are many combination drugs that are made up of either two or three NRTIs. Kaletra is one such combination drug. Prep is a single pill that is a combination of two anti-HIV drugs. [1] 

To manage HIV, it is important to take your medication every day, just as your doctor instructs. If you do not take the ART medications as prescribed, then your HIV could worsen and your T cell count could drop. If you have a hard time remembering, it could be useful to set reminders on your phone and keep an up to date calendar with all your appointments in a place where you can easily view them. 

Avoiding infections

When a person has a reduced amount of white blood cells, they are at risk of contracting opportunistic illnesses. If you have uncontrolled HIV than it can make it easier for other infections to develop and much harder for the body to fight them. With proper ART and vaccinations, the majority of opportunistic illnesses can be avoided. 

It is crucial for those with HIV to monitor their health closely and recognize signs of infection. It is important for these individuals to quickly seek the help of a medical professional and use antibiotics or antifungal medications to get rid of any infection.

Some common infections that occur with HIV include:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Cryptococcal meningitis 
  • Toxoplasmosis 
  • Pneumocystis pneumonia 
  • Candidiasis (thrush) [2] 

Tobacco, alcohol, and drug consumption

It is critical to maintain your overall health when you are living with HIV. Some common habits can have drastic effects on those with compromised immune systems. Smoking and excessive alcohol use is not a great idea for anyone, but the effects of these habits can make your HIV condition worse. 

Smoking has many negative health effects on people living with HIV. In one study, it was found that smokers living with HIV are 6 to 13 times more likely to die of lung cancer than from AIDS-related causes. Smokers living with HIV are more likely than nonsmokers with HIV to: 

  • Develop certain cancers, including lung, head, cervical and anal cancers. 
  • Develop bacterial pneumonia, which is a dangerous lung infection, as well as COPD and heart disease. 
  • Have a shorter lifespan than people living with HIV who do not smoke. [3] 

weed buds on a table and various jars

Alcohol and recreational drug use also have effects on the body’s system. There is evidence that alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of some medications, which may promote the progression of HIV. Recreational drugs can also interfere with prescription medications. If you frequently participate in recreational drug use, then you are less likely to properly follow your treatment plan and may forget to take your medications. 

Diet and exercise 

A healthy diet and exercise routine help boost the immune system and contribute to physical as well as mental health. It is recommended that those with HIV should eat vitamin-packed foods, which can include:

  • Plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Healthy fats, like nuts, olive oil, and avocados
  • Lean sources of protein, like fish, poultry, and legumes

Those with HIV may have trouble digesting particular foods.  A person with HIV has a fragile system and some food and medications can lead to adverse symptoms. Some tips include:

  • Never drink untreated water
  • When outside of the United States, drink bottled water and avoid unpeeled fruits and raw vegetables
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products
  • Avoid raw or uncooked meat or eggs
  • Always practice good food hygiene when eating meals 

It is also important for those with HIV to exercise, which can boost immune function and stimulate the appetite and prevent constipation. Exercise also boosts endorphins, which can improve your mental health. 

onions, garlic, potatoes, and herbs on a table

Maintaining open communication

Living with a lifelong condition like HIV can take a mental, as well as a physical toll on a person. It may feel daunting to tell other people about your diagnosis, but confiding in a trusted individual may help some of your new challenges in life. It can help to confide in a trusted friend, a counselor, or a support group for people with HIV. It’s not necessary to tell colleagues or employers about your condition, but it can help them better understand your need to take time off for medical appointments. 

A person with HIV can have a healthy sex life, but you should take precautions and be open and honest with your partner. If you are on a successful ART regime, your viral load of HIV may be undetectable, and less transmissible. Some states require those with HIV to share their status with new partners and anyone with whom they share needles, so check the laws in the states you live or visit. 

Managing your stress is also integral to limiting your chances of experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression. Some nonmedical ways of managing stress can include:

  • Deep breathing techniques
  • Art or music therapy
  • Acupuncture, massage, or aromatherapy
  • Meditation [4] 

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.