Ways to Manage HIV Infection
The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV for short, is a sexually transmitted disease that incapacitates the body’s natural defenses against illnesses and infections. When HIV progresses to the point where a person’s immune system is no longer capable of producing antibodies to fight the virus, the result is AIDS.
Also known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, AIDS makes the body vulnerable to “opportunistic” diseases it would normally be able to fight off. The reason it is called a “syndrome” is because it includes a concurrence of viruses, bacteria and parasites that collectively impair your health and, in the worst case scenario, lead to death.
With that being said, HIV and AIDS are NOT the same disease. If HIV is detected early and treated immediately, a person can live a longer and healthier life. The key to managing HIV is protecting and strengthening the immune system in order to help it fight off outside infections.
Ten Healthy Habits for People Living with HIV
- Take your HIV medications as prescribed. It is crucial that you take your medicine regularly and in the exact manner that doctor ordered. Failing to do so may “crash” your immune system and make you vulnerable to infections and illnesses. Skipping even a day can also allow the virus to develop an immunity to the “drug cocktails” that are meant to keep HIV in check. With that being said, you should talk to your doctor if you experience any unwelcome side effects from the medicine.
- Keep a nutritious and well-balanced diet. Eating well helps keep the immune system strong and prevent illness. Also, studies show that maintaining a healthy diet helps ease some symptoms of HIV, such as fatigue, nausea and diarrhea, and makes it easier for many people to process their HIV antiretroviral drugs. A healthy diet should include plenty of water, lean meats, green vegetables and whole grains, along with an avoidance of sugar, salt and fried foods.
- Avoid drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or doing drugs. A HIV-positive person who continues to indulge in these activities risks weakening his or her immune system and interfering with the medications that help keep AIDS at bay. In addition, drugs and alcohol can lead to feelings of depression as well as reduce inhibitions that can lead to risky behavior.
- Exercise the body and mind regularly. Physical activity such as walking, running, biking or swimming helps keeps the body physically fit and strengthens the immune system. But mental health is no less a valuable component of HIV management. Brain-stimulating exercises such as playing crossword puzzles or Sudoku can improve and strengthen memory and concentration, two mental faculties that HIV has been known to affect.
- Reduce your stress levels. Research from the University of California, San Francisco established a clear link between stress and reduced immune system function. Stress can also lead to other problems, such as depression, insomnia and lack of appetite, that can complicate or acerbate HIV symptoms. It is important that HIV-infected persons stay attuned to their emotional health issues and seek professional treatment or counseling if necessary. Some suggestions to help relieve stress include yoga, meditation, acupuncture and exercise.
- Prevent sickness to maintain good health. An immune system compromised by HIV makes the body especially prone to serious and prolonged illnesses and infections. Therefore, HIV-positive persons need to take extra precautions so that they don’t become sick. In particular, people with HIV should sleep well and take naps as needed in order to strengthen their immune systems. They should also wash their hands frequently so that they don’t contract infectious bacteria and they should avoid contact with sick people as much as possible. Doctors also strongly advise that people infected with HIV get immunization shots for such illnesses as pneumonia and the flu, particularly if they travel to countries where infectious bacterium and viruses are prevalent.
- Get tested for other STDs. A person who has HIV and another co-existing infection, such as syphilis, gonorrhea or chylamydia, is at increased risk of worsening their HIV symptoms. Having another STD in addition to HIV also makes it easier for a person to acquire and transmit both infections to their partner. STD testing is particularly important because while many sexually transmitted disease do not display symptoms, they can do considerable and irreversible damage to a person’s health. If possible, make sure to get tested with a committed partner to ensure that he or she is STD and HIV free.
- Practice safer sex. Some people with HIV elect to practice an abstinent lifestyle so that they aren’t at risk of infecting others or transmitting a STD that worsens their HIV symptoms. But if HIV-positive people choose to engage in sexual activity, it is paramount that they use condoms and other prophylactics at all times. In addition, it is important that people with HIV have a frank and honest conversation with their non-infected partners about their health status before the decision can be made to proceed with sex.
- Maintain a positive attitude. People with HIV attest to the power of positive thinking – while it may not have a quantifiable effect on one’s HIV status, it can help a person with the disease practice fortitude and mental toughness so that they can meet the challenges the disease poses head on.
- Learn as much as possible about HIV. While there is no tangible benefit in terms of curing the disease, the axiom “knowledge is power” applies here. There are a number of resources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, that can provide a person with information about HIV. Online STD testing sites also contain valuable information about HIV and other common STDs.