Many people who start or switch to a new anti-HIV therapy will experience some side effects or symptoms. These effects can vary from person to person. Some people experience mild, manageable side effects or none at all, while for others, they may be quite severe. It's unclear how much of these types of side effects are associated with the therapies and the body adjusting to the medication and how much they are due to stress and anxiety associated with being on therapy.
Often side-effects will go away within four to six weeks. Being aware of early signs of these side effects and what to do if they arise is important. Moreover, if you have a very clear understanding of what the potential side effects of a given therapy are, you can prepare to manage them should they arise. Talking with your doctor about possible side effects before you start a therapy allows you to have realistic expectations and come up with criteria around when you might consider stopping or switching therapies based on side effects concerns.
The good news is that there are many more treatment options today than ever before and there are ways to reduce side effects that you may encounter.
What to Look for
Many people experience an adjustment period when starting a new therapy. This usually lasts about 4–6 weeks as your body adapts to the new drug. During this time, you may experience headache, nausea, muscle pain and occasional dizziness. These kinds of side effects typically lessen or disappear entirely as your body adjusts to the new regimen.
Learn to recognize, monitor and manage side effects should they arise. Often, simple solutions exist to lessen many of them. In other cases, a particular side effect may be an important signal that requires immediate medical attention. Be sure to talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
Caring for Your Whole Self
Some conditions believed to be side effects may actually be due to anxiety, depression or stress. Caring for your whole self—your emotions, thoughts and general health—can help minimize negative feelings and their effects on your body.
There are some things you can do that may make the adjustment period easier. If possible, take some time off work or lighten your schedule to give yourself time to adjust to the change. If things get hard, see if someone can help out around the house or with children or other obligations.
Take time to re-prioritize your health needs, and make sure you eat well and get plenty of sleep and rest. Try to get a little exercise during the day—even if it's just taking a walk. Most importantly, reach out for support—be it from your family, friends or support group. If you can, let them know what’s going on. Sometimes just talking helps, but they may also have ideas to help ease your side effects.
For More Information
Project Inform runs a well-respected and very helpful hotline that can talk with you more about various medications, side-effects and side-effects management practices. Call 1-866-HIV-INFO (866.448.4636) in the US and Canada for more information.