(BlackDoctor.org) — Living with HIV/AIDS presents a unique set of challenges, some of which are not easily foreseen. Despite these, HIV-positive people live full and fulfilling lives with the help of medication, healthy lifestyle decisions and a strong support base.
Quality of life for HIV-positive people has dramatically increased since the development of multi-drug treatment, called HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy). This group of medications targets HIV at different points in the infection cycle, slowing the virus’s impact on the immune system and delaying the onset of symptoms. Although these drugs have complicated regimens and many people experience a range of side effects both mild and severe, it is important to follow the treatment plan established with a physician and to not alter the course of treatment without a physician’s knowledge. It is also key to follow up with doctor visits, physicals and viral-load testing, and keep one’s physician apprised of any serious side effects of medications.
Three lifestyle choices are important for all HIV-positive people: maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding or quitting smoking and getting exercise. Generally, this is because an overall fit body will be able to fight off infections better and also is better equipped to cope with the virus itself. Maintaining a proper nutrient balance and building muscle mass through exercise can help stave off wasting, a condition of severe weight loss that can begin even before HIV progresses to AIDS. According to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), exercise can also help relieve stress, improve immune function, regulate sleep and improve appetite.
Disclosing one’s HIV status is a highly personal decision. On the most basic level, it is important to tell all health-care providers that one is HIV-positive so that they can provide the best care and monitoring of HIV-related symptoms. It is also important to reach out to family and friends and build a support network of people who care about you and can understand the emotional as well as physical aspects of living with HIV.