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HIV Treatment Decision Making

HIV antiretroviral treatment (ART) can dramatically change how you function, extending your life, possibly into your 70s. But it can also affect you emotionally. There’s no cure for HIV, so treatment is lifelong once you start and you need to be prepared for that commitment. If you miss doses or stop taking the pills, they can stop working against HIV. Other treatment options can become limited. Exploring how you think and feel about taking ART can help you move confidently into it.

What do you think about taking antiretrovirals?

Taking HIV treatment is not just a physical thing. It can affect how you feel about living with HIV, your life plans and relationships. If your doctor has recommended you start treatment and you’re not so sure, exploring these questions could help:

  • Have all of your questions been answered? If not, do you feel comfortable talking to your doctor? You can always take someone with you to appointments if it would be helpful to discuss the information afterwards.
  • Are you ready to make a long term (probably the rest of your life) commitment to taking medications at scheduled times?
  • Do you believe antiretrovirals will help? We know from years of research that they work, but if you have doubts, what information would help so you can make a decision that’s right for you?
  • Are you confident that you can take medications every day, aiming to never miss a dose?

How do you feel about taking antiretrovirals?

  • Are you physically comfortable swallowing pills?
  • Will you change your diet, if necessary, to maximize the effectiveness of the treatment?
  • Can you deal with the possibility of several weeks of side effects if it means your health could improve in the long run? Generally, they don’t last long. Side effects might include nausea, headaches, diarrhea, rash, insomnia, dizziness, and more.
  • How might you feel about being reminded of HIV every day?
  • If you’re in a situation where people don’t know your status, would you be comfortable finding ways to take your HIV medications on schedule, regardless of where you are and who is around?

Ideally, you and your doctor can talk openly about your questions and concerns. When it comes to HIV treatment, you are the one who has to take it, not your doctor. Making sure you have all the answers you want before you start and a safe and inspiring place to go for answers once you’ve started is vital. While ART is the best bet for improving your health overall, there are things you can do to improve your health if you feel you’re not ready yet.

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