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when does treatment of hiv typically begin

By: Ana Mixon

August 1, 2023

When Does Treatment of HIV Typically Begin?

An HIV diagnosis can feel like your world has been turned upside down. It’s normal to be worried about the future, the well-being of your loved ones, and the potential of having your life cut short prematurely.

The good news is that HIV treatments have advanced dramatically over the past couple of decades. Now, patients who catch the disease early (by getting a Rapid STD test through a Rapid STD Testing facility) and seek treatment can usually live a long, healthy life.

Unlike the early days in the 1980s, when the disease led to fatality within a few months to years, people living with HIV today report that the illness is much like having any chronic illness that’s treatable, like high blood pressure or diabetes.

To reap the benefits of living a “normal” life, someone diagnosed with HIV should start treatment as soon as possible. This is especially true if you are pregnant, are newly infected within the past six months, or have an AIDS-defining condition. AIDS-defining conditions include:

  • Cytomegalovirus Retinitis (accompanied by loss of vision)
  • Pneumocystis Jiroveci Pneumonia
  • Chronic Intestinal Cryptosporidiosis
  • HIV-Related Encephalopathy
  • Mycobacterium Tuberculosis
  • Invasive Cervical Cancer

For people with HIV, the above conditions are life-threatening, and seeking HIV treatment right away is vital.

Understanding HIV

In addition to wondering “when does treatment of HIV typically begin,” you might also have questions about HIV and treatments in general. To start, HIV is an abbreviation for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and it is the virus that causes one to become infected with HIV.

HIV is transmitted between people through an exchange of certain bodily fluids. The bodily fluids that can lead to transmission include blood, semen, and vaginal fluid. HIV is not transmissible through saliva or urine.

There are several ways one can become infected with HIV:

  • Vaginal or anal intercourse
  • Sharing needles for drugs or tattoos
  • An HIV-positive mother passes the disease during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding

The disease works by attacking the immune system and destroying CDF cells, which are critical in helping the body ward off infections. 

Once someone has contracted the virus, there are three stages of HIV:

1.  Acute HIV Infection: This occurs within two to four weeks after becoming infected, and the virus begins multiplying and attacking immune cells

2.  Chronic HIV Infection: During this stage, the disease is latent, but HIV continues multiplying. This stage can last up to 10 years but is usually much shorter

3.  AIDS: Short for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, AIDs is the final stage of an HIV infection. At this stage, the immune system has become severely weakened, and the body will no longer be able to fight certain infections, referred to as opportunistic infections. People with a normally functioning immune system can easily battle these bacteria and viruses, but for someone with AIDS, a simple infection can be fatal.

While there is currently no cure for HIV, it can be effectively managed and controlled with treatment. In general, medication can reduce the viral load of the disease to undetectable levels within six months. When viral load is so low as to become undetectable, the risk of transmission is virtually eliminated.

You may experience symptoms during the acute HIV infection stage or no symptoms at all until the disease progresses. If you do have symptoms, they may include the following:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Muscle pains
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Mouth sores
  • Rashes
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
     

If you notice the start of HIV cough, which is a dry cough, it could be a sign that the disease is in the early or late stages.

Medicating for HIV

HIV is treated with Antiretroviral Therapy, or ART for short. It’s important to note that ART is not a cure for HIV, but it can dramatically extend the life of someone living with HIV and make that life healthier and more enjoyable.

Another reason, besides quality of life, to seek treatment for HIV is that medication greatly reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to a partner or a fetus during pregnancy and childbirth. 

Specifically, you will eliminate the risk of HIV transmission during sex and significantly reduce the risk of transmission by sharing needles and other apparatus used for injections.

Depending on other medications you may be taking, and how far the disease has progressed, you may be prescribed one or more of seven different types of drugs to treat HIV. Drug treatment prevents HIV from replicating itself in the body, which allows the immune system to maintain healthy levels of CD4 cells to fight infections and cancers that are linked to HIV.

There are two main types of treatment available:

1.  Pills: After an initial diagnosis, your doctor will most likely prescribe treatment in pill form. There are both single-pill treatments and a combination of HIV medicines available

2.  Shots: After the disease is under control and your viral load has been undetectable for a minimum of three months, shots are another option. Unlike pills, which are taken daily, shots are administered by a healthcare provider either monthly or every other month.

Side Effects of HIV Treatment 

As HIV drug technology has advanced, there are fewer side effects. However, some side effects (including serious ones) are still possible.

Commonly reported side effects of HIV medication include:

  • Drug interactions
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Rashes
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

For patients receiving HIV treatment in the form of shots, pain at the injection site is another possible side effect.

Though side effects are possible, they can be counteracted by changing your treatment plan, so be sure to consult with your doctor if you experience side effects.

Tips for HIV Medication Adherence

Once you begin taking HIV medicines, you should adhere to your treatment schedule and plan. This is critical in achieving and maintaining an undetectable viral load. Even missing an occasional dose can allow HIV to multiply and cause sickness.

There may be obstacles to adherence, including having a busy lifestyle or financial constraints.

  • Follow your doctor’s recommendation, including taking your medication as prescribed
  • Report side effects to your doctor to determine other treatment options
  • If you are traveling, bring medication with you
  • Store medication properly, especially if it is sensitive to extreme hot or cold temperatures

If you don’t adhere to your treatment schedule, you also run the risk of experiencing drug resistance. When this occurs, HIV medication may become less effective because you now have a drug-resistant form of HIV. This form of HIV can be transmitted to others.

What Happens When You Don’t Get Treated for HIV?

Failing to seek treatment for HIV means that the virus will continue to wreak havoc on your body and immune system. As a result, you are likely to notice that you get sick more frequently. You also put your partner at risk of contracting HIV, while increasing your risk of developing AIDS.

When Can You Stop Medicating for HIV?

It might be tempting to stop taking medication when you have an undetectable viral load, or you’re merely tired of dealing with the daily pill regime or trips to the doctor for shots. However, once you begin medicating for HIV, you must continue indefinitely.

As noted above, stopping medication can lead to drug resistance, increased risk of transmission, and health problems, including kidney and liver problems, and AIDS.

Find Out Your HIV Status – Fast

When it comes to HIV transmission, the stakes are high. Avoid passing this disease to your loved one by going to a Rapid STD Testing facility that offers same-day STD testing. You can also get a 10-panel STD test to rule out any other sexually transmitted infections.

 

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By: Ana Mixon
August 1, 2023

Ana Mixon is an accomplished and knowledgeable medical writer who excels at conveying intricate medical information in a concise and understandable way. With a strong foundation in internal medicine, Ana possesses an in-depth comprehension of cutting-edge research and advancements in the healthcare sector. Her passion lies in making complex medical concepts accessible to a wide range of readers.

With years of experience under her belt, Ana has honed her skills in medical writing to perfection. She consistently produces high-quality content that is both informative and engaging, ensuring that readers can grasp even the most intricate details with ease. Her dedication to the craft is evident in her unwavering commitment to staying abreast of the latest developments in medical writing. Ana actively participates in conferences and workshops, constantly seeking opportunities to enhance her skill set and remain at the forefront of her field.