Just because you’re living with HIV doesn’t mean that you are immune to other serious health problems.
In fact, many positive people face additional challenges, including other infections (like hepatitis C), medication side effects, the effects of aging, heart disease, diabetes or depression. This is why it’s essential for both you and your health care provider to focus on the well-being of your whole body. Proper diet, smoking cessation, exercise, sleep, stress management and the careful exploration of complementary therapies can also go a long way in helping you maintain the health of your whole body.
“After finding out I was HIV positive, I examined my lifestyle and drinking, eating, sleeping and exercise habits. I changed some things, for the better, in order to give my body all the strength it needs to fight HIV and to handle processing the meds I have to take,” says Hofmann. “In a way, I am much healthier in general than I was before I got HIV! I didn’t change everything though…. I still have a sweet tooth and watch too many late-night movies.
“HIV has made me much more aware of, and proactive about, the overall health of my body—from my head to my toes. I am much more diligent now about things like annual Pap smears, to guard against cervical cancer, and breast exams. I have a complete physical once a year and do my best to avoid getting or developing other challenging health conditions. Letting your health care provider know about your family’s medical history can also help guide steps to help you avoid certain conditions, including heart disease and certain cancers.
“When I was first diagnosed, I never thought I’d live long enough to experience some of the normal side effects of aging. But having recently celebrated my 41st birthday, I am already beginning to see how things change over time and how important it is to be proactive about your whole health!”
“I am living proof that life does not end with diagnosis and that we still have the
power to determine the quality of our liVES.” —Nathan Townsend Diagnosed 1984
DIET & EXERCISE
Recommendations about diet and exercise are similar for positive and negative people. According to nutrition experts, people should be eating a diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains, accompanied by protein from fish and lean meat. The majority of fats should come from olive oil, fish and nuts—and trans fats, found in shortening and the fryer at many fast-food restaurants, should be avoided.
Such a diet is a good idea for most people living with HIV, but may be especially important for those with diabetes and heart disease risk factors, like older age, family history and high cholesterol.
Those with compromised immune systems also need to be careful about food poisoning by avoiding raw eggs and undercooked meats and being careful about food preparation.
For exercise, the American Health Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week. That means walking or jogging briskly enough to keep your heart rate elevated for at least 30 minutes at a time.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a catch-all term embodying everything from massage and acupuncture to herbs and supplements. Some CAMs, like Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, are based on belief systems different from Western medical science, which makes their effectiveness difficult to measure in traditional ways. Just as with traditional medicine, it’s vital to be an informed consumer.
Surveys show that lots of people with HIV turn to CAMs. Something to keep in mind, however, is that just because something is “natural” or available without a prescription or at a health-food store doesn’t mean that it is necessarily good for you. While most CAMs won’t harm you, it is important for you to tell your doctor about the ones you’re taking or plan to take, as some can interact with HIV drugs and others can have side effects like elevated blood pressure, indigestion or sedation. Seek out CAM specialists who are knowledgeable and experienced with HIV—ask your health care provider if he or she can suggest someone.
“When I found out my status, I read stories of others who were infected with the virus. IT gave me hope to know that HIV wasn’t a death sentence and that I wasn’t the only one with it.” —Lolisa Gibson Diagnosed 2004
KEEPING AN EYE ON YOUR WHOLE HEALTH
People with HIV can lead full, long lives thanks to major advances in treatment and care. But staying healthy also requires looking out for, preventing and treating other problems that can arise. Here’s a look at some of the other medical issues you’ll want to discuss with your provider:
Risks to heart health may be greater among HIV-positive people with family histories, poor diets, smoking habits, or those taking certain HIV meds.
Left unmanaged, high blood glucose (sugar) levels can lead to serious health problems. The risk may be higher among people with HIV.
Hep C is common among positive people and is a major cause of liver-related death. Hep A and B can also cause serious liver complications for those with HIV. Your doc should check for these infections; if you’re negative for hep A and B, get vaccinated.
HIV, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain meds can put a strain on your kidneys. Prevention, beginning with regular lab tests, is the best medicine.
People with HIV can face a variety of mental health challenges, including depression. Left unchecked, depression can lead to low self-esteem, difficulty functioning at home and work, abuse of alcohol or other drugs, and poor HIV treatment adherence.
Typical AIDS cancers, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS), are less likely today due to potent HIV drug therapy. But non-AIDS-related cancers—including cervical, anal, liver and lung cancer—are on the rise. Your doctor needs to be on the lookout for them all.