Whether or not you are currently taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV, there is a lot you can do to play a strong role in your health care by attending clinic appointments regularly and learning a little about HIV as a long-term condition.
Understanding HIV: CD4 count and viral load
If you need to refresh your mind on the blood tests you have for HIV – what CD4 count and viral load mean to you or want to understand more about Antiretroviral Treatment, see the section ‘Thinking about starting treatment?’
Engaging in a good relationship with your health care team
The relationship you have with your health care provider (HCP) may affect your quality of life. Certain aspects of doctor-patient communication can also have a significant impact on your satisfaction of health care. A good relationship with your health care provider has been associated with improved rates of pill taking, which doctors call treatment adherence .
A good health care provider will listen and provide you with a range of opinions. To make the most of your next appointment, try some of these helpful tips from other people living with HIV:
- Make a list of top three questions
- Ask for your blood results in advance
- Make notes during your consultation
- Speak to the nurse/pharmacist if you are uncertain about anything
- Ask the clinic for tips on how best to be prepared
If you have a poor relationship with your doctor, find someone in the clinic you can trust and work with. This may be a nurse, counsellor or pharmacist. You can also exercise your right to change clinic, or make a formal complaint if you are unsatisfied with your care.
Women and HIV treatment
In terms of treatment, women particularly may find that they experience more side effects across all drug classes. Women may have an increased risk of developing body shape changes.
For women considering having a baby, it is possible to reduce the risk of vertical transmission (HIV transmission from a woman to her child) with ART during pregnancy or delivery. ART started during pregnancy may not need to be lifelong for the woman or for her baby.
You may often wonder if it will ever be safe for you to stop ART. You should always consult your doctor before you stop or alter your treatment. Most doctors do not recommend taking breaks from ART.
Since the introduction of ART, life expectancy for people living with HIV who are taking it has continued to improve. People who start therapy with CD4 cell count greater than 350 cells/mm3 are more likely to have longer survival compared to those starting therapy at lower CD4 cell counts.
If you believe you are experiencing a side effect to any medication, you should discuss this with your health care provider.
For more resources on all of this – see the Treatment section in Useful links.