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What is HIV? — HIV is the name of a virus that affects the body's "immune system," which is responsible for fighting infections. People with HIV can get sick more easily than people without HIV. That's because their immune system cannot work as well to fight off infections or cancer.
One type of cell in the immune system that helps keep you from getting sick is the "T cell." HIV lowers the number of T cells in your body. When you have lower numbers of T cells, you have a higher chance of getting a serious infection.
The last stage of HIV infection, when the immune system is at its weakest, is called AIDS.
Can HIV be treated? — Yes. While HIV cannot be cured, there are treatments that can help. People with HIV can take medicines to control the virus, keep their immune system strong, and stay healthy.
How is HIV treated? — Doctors treat HIV with medicines called "antiretroviral" medicines. There are different types of antiretroviral medicines that work in different ways. Most people take a combination of 2 to 3 different medicines each day. The different medicines are combined into 1 or 2 pills. That way, people don't need to take as many pills each day.
Do I need to take medicines if I have HIV but feel fine? — Probably. Doctors recommend that almost all people who have HIV start treatment. That's because HIV can attack your immune system and other parts of your body without you knowing it. Also, taking HIV medicines lowers your chance of giving HIV to someone else.
How can HIV medicines help me? — HIV medicines help keep the HIV virus in your body under control. When you take your medicines every day, your T cell count will go up, and the amount of virus in your body (called the "viral load") will go down. That way, your immune system can work better, and you can stay healthy.
HIV attacks other parts of the body, too, such as the kidneys, heart, and brain. HIV medicines can help these parts of the body stay healthy.
HIV medicines can also help when a person is pregnant. Pregnant people with HIV can pass the virus to their baby. The medicines lower a person's chance of spreading HIV to their baby.
When should I start treatment? — You and your doctor will decide when you should start treatment. Doctors usually recommend starting treatment right away, so you stay healthy. It is especially important to start treatment if your T cell count is low.
When you start treatment, your doctor will work with you to find the combination of medicines that is right for you. This will depend on:
●Your blood test results
●Your medical conditions
●The other medicines you take, including over-the-counter medicines
●How many pills you want to take each day
●Whether you are thinking about getting pregnant
What else should I know before I start treatment? — You should know that:
●Treatment is life-long. You will need to take your medicines every day for the rest of your life. That's because HIV cannot be cured.
●You should not skip doses or stop taking your medicines. If you skip doses, the medicines could stop working.
●Although most of the medicines are easy to take, they can have side effects. Let your doctor know if you have any problems or side effects from your medicines.
●You need to keep track of when and how to take your medicines. It's important to follow all of your doctor's instructions about treatment. If you take a lot of medicines, you can use a pill box to help you organize your medicines.
What is a clinical trial? — A clinical trial is a scientific study that tests new medicines or new combinations of medicines to see how well they work. There are clinical trials for HIV all over the world. To find out more about being in a clinical trial, talk with your doctor.
Patient education: HIV/AIDS (The Basics)
Patient education: Tests to monitor HIV (The Basics)
Patient education: Vaccines for adults with HIV (The Basics)
Patient education: Preventing HIV after unprotected sex or needle-sharing (The Basics)
Patient education: What are clinical trials? (The Basics)
Patient education: Initial treatment of HIV (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Tips for taking HIV medications by mouth (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: HIV and pregnancy (Beyond the Basics)
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