After receiving a diagnosis of HIV, there may be two things on your mind:
- I can’t believe I have HIV.
- What do I do now?
There are many things to do after a diagnosis of HIV. But the first thing you need to know is that your life isn’t over. There are many advancements in drugs and treatments for HIV. People are living long, healthy, lives full of relationships and new experiences. HIV is a manageable disorder. With the right drugs, treatment, support network, and mindset, you can live a good life.
Now, let’s get to some of those questions you may have and their answers.
Question 1: Who Do I Go See Right After Diagnosis?
Answer: After receiving an HIV diagnosis, you’ll want to see a healthcare provider. Preferably a healthcare provider that specializes in HIV. Even if you don’t feel sick, seek medical care. Starting HIV medication is the best way to continue feeling well and to stave off the progression of the illness.
Question 2: How Do I Know Which Medication To Take And When To Start Them?
Answer: After diagnosis, a healthcare provider will give you an HIV baseline evaluation. This evaluation will include information about your previous health and medical records, a physical exam, and other lab tests. In order to see what kind of dosage you will need or how often you must take these medications, your healthcare provider will need to determine your functioning before treatment.
Question 3: What Is Antiretroviral Therapy (ART)?
Treatment for HIV that uses HIV medications is called Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). With ART, you will take HIV medications, known as an HIV regimen, every day. ART will reduce the amount of HIV in your body and prevent the HIV from turning into a more serious strain, or progressing to AIDS. There is no cure for HIV, but a healthcare plan that involves medication is an excellent step towards your healthier, longer life.
If you have other conditions related to HIV or not, it is highly recommended that you begin ART, right way.
Question 4: What Else Is Involved In A HIV Baseline Evaluation?
The baseline evaluation will also include information your healthcare provider collected when you first came to see him/her, your health and medical history, lab test results, and a physical exam.
This evaluation is used to:
- Monitor how far the HIV has progressed, to ensure you are placed on the right medications that will prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS
- Determine if you’re ready to start lifelong treatment that will include HIV medicines. After being diagnosed with HIV, medications will be a daily addition to your life. They will need to be taken in certain dosages and at certain times.
- Decide which HIV medicines to begin you on by collection more information
During this evaluation, your healthcare provider will discuss methods to reduce the chance that you may pass HIV onto others, answer any questions you may have, and explain the benefits and risks of all the different forms of HIV treatment.
Question 5: What Should I Ask At My First Doctors Visit?
You may be in shock so you will want to write down every question you have before your first appointment with your healthcare provider. During the first visit, or subsequent visits, write down everything, or ask the provider to record the session so you can listen to it later on.
Some questions others ask after being diagnosed with HIV are:
- Will I eventually get AIDS?
- How can I stay healthy and avoid other infections?
- What are some ways I can prevent passing HIV to my loved ones or significant other?
- How will my lifestyle change with HIV treatment?
- How do I disclose my HIV status?
- Is there a reason to tell my colleagues or employer that I have HIV?
- Where can I find others who have HIV?
It may also be beneficial to bring a family member or friend to your HIV appointments. They can remind you of questions, bring up their own questions, and write down answers while you listen. Oftentimes, it is difficult to formulate questions, listen to the answer, and write down the answer, at the same.
Question 6: What Tests Are Involved In The HIV Baseline Evaluation?
There are four basic tests included in this evaluation. With your new diagnosis, giving blood will be a regular activity.
Test #1: CD4 Count
A sample of blood will be taken to conduct this test. The CD4 Count monitors the number of CD4 cells in your blood. These cells are part of your immune system and fight infections. CD4 cells are destroyed by the HIV virus, which results in a weakened immune system.
HIV medicines prevent the virus from destroying your CD4 cells. The higher your CD4 count is, the healthier you are, at this moment. No matter what your CD4 count is, ART is recommended as soon as possible.
A low CD4 count is below 200 cells/mm3 and indicates treatment should begin immediately
Test #2: Viral Loa
Viral load measures how much of the HIV virus is in your blood. HIV treatment’s purpose is to protect your CD4 count and to keep your HIV viral load so low that the virus is undetectable by the viral load test. It’s important to remember that, even though your viral load is low, your HIV can still be passed on. You should disclose your status to potential partners before engaging in sex. Giving them a choice is very important.
Test #3: Drug-resistance Testing
This test will see if you are resistant to any HIV medications. There are different strains of HIV and your healthcare provider will want to ensure the medication will be effective before prescribing an HIV regimen.
Test #4: Sexually Transmitted Diseases
HIV doesn’t stop you from getting other STDs. Your healthcare provider will check if you have any other STDs, or are “coinfected”. Other infections may cause your HIV to progress faster and increase the risk of transmission to a sexual partner. HIV compromises the immune system, so illnesses such as colds, the flu, and other illnesses must be monitored.
Other tests that may be included in the HIV baseline evaluation are:
- A blood cell count
- Tests of glucose and fat levels in the blood
- Liver and kidney function tests
- Tests for hepatitis
Medications for a diagnosis of HIV need to be taken every day for the remainder of your life. These medications will prolong your life and increase your health. Many times, the lack of health insurance or substance abuse can negatively affect how often you take your medication, so your healthcare provider will recommend resources to help you stay on your medication regimen.
Some websites that provide resources are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV.gov, and AIDSinfo. if you are low-income, an organization that will assist you in getting your needed medication, and other supports, is the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). All of these programs support a wide-range of languages.
HIV is a manageable part of your life, and certainly not the end. There are many resources, communities, and people available to help.