The last 40 years have seen dramatic improvements in HIV treatments and the public’s understanding of the condition. Many people with HIV have lives that are not so different from those of people without the virus.

As long as they follow their treatment plans, most people with HIV can enjoy full social and professional lives. In addition, people who receive an early diagnosis and effective treatment can expect to live nearly as long as individuals who do not have the virus.

As well as taking medication, a person with HIV needs to attend regular medical checkups. Maintaining a balanced lifestyle and seeking treatment for any other medical issues can help a person with the condition stay healthy.

However, maintaining treatment can be difficult. HIV medication is expensive in the United States, so many people can experience difficulty receiving it. Health insurance may not cover medications and appointments, and adequate treatment can be inaccessible for people without insurance.

This article describes some challenges that people living with HIV face and provides tips and resources offering support.

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If a person discovers they are HIV-positive, they will likely feel a range of emotions such as fear, anger, or even denial. It is important to understand that these feelings are normal and expected. Research has shown that people living with HIV and those at risk of HIV are more likely to have mental health conditions.

However, it is also essential to understand that there is life after an HIV diagnosis. As scary as it first seems, there are steps people can take to manage their condition and improve their health.

Step 1: Start HIV medications

Everyone living with HIV should start antiretroviral therapy (ART) to treat their infection as soon as possible. This medication lowers the amount of HIV in a person’s body, helps them stay healthy, and reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to another person.

Step 2: Find support

Receiving support is one of the most important things a person can do after an HIV diagnosis. Whether that support comes from friends, family, or an organization, connecting with people who care can help a person feel less alone.

If someone has questions about HIV, they can click here to find specific state’s HIV hotlines.

Step 3: Learn about HIV and AIDS

People should educate themselves about HIV and AIDS. The more they know, the better equipped they can manage their condition and remain healthy.

Learn more about HIV and AIDS.

Step 4: Understand how to avoid transmission

HIV ART can mean a person has an undetectable viral load, which is also known as undetectable equals and transmissible (U=U). This is the best way to prevent HIV transmission.

However, it can take time to achieve an undetectable viral load.

This means people living with HIV should take precautions such as using barrier protection during sex and never sharing needles. Sexual partners may also be able to use HIV protection medicines such as preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and postexposure prophylaxis (PEP).

The Ready, Set, PrEP program provides free medication to qualifying individuals in the U.S. People can learn more about the program here.

Following a treatment plan and attending medical appointments are essential for living with HIV. If managed properly, people with HIV can have a high quality of life.

The development of antiretroviral medications has allowed many people to live with HIV and experience minimal adverse health effects. Effective treatment can reduce the level of the virus in the body — also known as the body’s viral load. When the viral load is so low that tests cannot detect it, the person can no longer pass on HIV, as long as they continue to take their medication.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that everyone with HIV take antiretroviral therapy. This is a combination of drugs that can lower a person’s viral load, keeping them healthy and preventing transmission.

To manage HIV, a person needs to take their medication daily and as instructed. They also need to attend regular appointments and track any symptoms.

Learn more about medications for HIV.

If a person with HIV does not receive treatment, their immune system may weaken. This increases their risk of developing opportunistic infections, which are infections that happen more often in people with compromised immune systems.

Having uncontrolled HIV can make it easier for other infections to develop and harder for the body to combat them. Antiretroviral medications and vaccinations can help prevent this from happening.

However, it is still crucial for people with HIV to monitor their health closely to recognize early signs of a possible infection. A healthcare professional can help explain the risks, what to be aware of, and answer any questions a person may have.

If a person with HIV suspects they have an infection, they should seek treatment — which may involve antibiotics or antifungal medications — right away.

Learn more about possible complications of HIV.

A nutritious diet and regular exercise are important for everyone — not just people with HIV. People should prioritize eating:

  • plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • lean sources of protein, such as fish, poultry, and legumes
  • healthy fats such as nuts, olive oil, and avocados
  • few highly processed foods

People with HIV can experience problems that make it difficult to eat or swallow. These issues may be side effects of medications, symptoms of infections, or other complications. This can cause problems, as many people need to take their HIV medication with food. If a person is finding it challenging to consume food, they should contact a doctor.

Meanwhile, a dietitian or another healthcare professional can help develop a plan to avoid nutrient deficiencies and unwanted weight loss or gain.

Additionally, regular exercise is important for people with HIV. Exercise can regulate immune function, stimulate the appetite, improve mental health, and prevent constipation. People with HIV can typically enjoy the same types of exercise as those without the virus. However, before a person tries a new activity, it is a good idea to consult a healthcare professional.

For more in-depth information and resources on HIV and AIDS, visit our dedicated hub.

The symptoms of foodborne illnesses, sometimes collectively called “food poisoning,” can be more severe in people with uncontrolled HIV. A person may need to spend time in the hospital, and in some cases, a foodborne illness can become life threatening.

To prevent foodborne illness, people can:

  • practice good food hygiene when preparing, storing, and eating meals
  • avoid raw or undercooked meat, seafood, and eggs
  • avoid unpasteurized dairy products
  • avoid drinking untreated water

Maintaining good overall health is important for people with HIV, as it can help prevent a range of complications.

The following lifestyle choices can help keep the immune system strong:

  • Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke: Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer, some other cancers, and lung problems. According to research, this risk is higher among people with HIV.
  • Limiting alcohol intake: Some evidence shows that people living with HIV who regularly drink above recommended alcohol levels have poor HIV viral suppression. This may be because they do not adhere to their antiretroviral medication regime as prescribed.
  • Avoiding recreational drug use: Recreational drugs may interfere with prescription medications and can make a person less likely to follow their treatment plan.

Learn more about quitting smoking.

Having support can make it easier to manage the challenges of living with HIV. It may help to talk with:

  • a trusted friend, partner, or family member
  • a counselor
  • a support group for people with HIV

Telling others about a diagnosis can feel daunting. A healthcare professional or support group can help a person choose a friend or family member to confide in. They can also help the person prepare for the conversation.

It is not necessary to tell friends, employers, or colleagues about an HIV diagnosis. While sharing this information may have practical advantages — for example, if a person needs to take time off work — they should only do so if they feel comfortable.

Housing discrimination is prevalent among people with HIV. Although this practice is illegal in the U.S., it still happens, and it can make it challenging for people with HIV to access stable housing. If someone with HIV is experiencing housing instability, they may be eligible for housing assistance through the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).

For more information about disclosing an HIV status, people can access guidance from Avert and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

HIV is a condition that affects not only an individual but their relationships with sexual partners, family members, and friends.

Sexual relationships

A person with HIV can have an active sex life. However, it is still important to take some precautions.

HIV.gov recommends sharing the diagnosis with sexual partners. Telling a partner about an HIV diagnosis can help keep both people healthy. Some U.S. states require people with HIV to share their status with sexual partners and anyone with whom they may share needles. It is important for people to check the laws in states that they live in or visit.

A person with HIV cannot pass on the virus if their viral load is undetectable and they continue taking their medication. Undetectable means the virus is intransmissible.

When a viral load is undetectable, the person still has HIV, but their body’s levels are so low that they cannot transmit the virus to another person. When a person follows their treatment plan, there is an excellent chance of reducing their viral load to this point.

If a person has a sexual partner who has HIV, it may be a good idea to ask a healthcare professional about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). This type of drug can dramatically reduce their risk of contracting HIV.

The CDC notes that if a person has a sexually transmitted infection (STI), they have a higher risk of contracting HIV. One reason is that if the STI causes broken skin or sores, it is easier for HIV to enter the body.

Personal relationships

HIV is a condition that affects not only an individual but their relationships with sexual partners, friends, and family members.

Living with HIV can be difficult, but it is easier with the right support. Some people worry about telling their family and friends that they have HIV because of the stigma people associate with the virus.

However, having a network of people who can provide emotional support can help reduce some of the stress of living with HIV.

It is also important to understand that although there are reports of HIV transmission between family members in a household, these events are very rare. People can easily protect themselves by not sharing toothbrushes, razors, or body piercings, and taking sensible precautions with wound care.

Despite advances in treatment and better awareness, some people with HIV still face stigma and discrimination. Prejudices often stem from myths, fears, a lack of education about HIV, and institutional attitudes and laws.

People with HIV should know that they have the same rights to medical treatment and services as other people.

The CDC lists several support services for people who are experiencing stigma or discrimination related to HIV. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act serves to protect people with HIV from discrimination. Anyone who experiences this type of discrimination can file a complaint with the Department of Justice here.

Myths about HIV can lead to prejudice. Learn about some HIV myths and facts here.

Living with HIV can increase the likelihood of having stress, anxiety, and depression. In addition, some opportunistic infections can affect the nervous system, resulting in changes in behavior and thinking.

Anyone who has concerns about their mental or emotional health should contact a healthcare professional. Some available treatments can improve a person’s quality of life and help them cope with other pressures.

Some non-drug ways of managing stress and mood disorders include:

  • relaxation activities, mindfulness, and meditation
  • alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, massage, and aromatherapy
  • art or music therapies
  • deep breathing techniques
  • exercise, including yoga
  • getting enough sleep
  • eating a nutritious diet

Some people with HIV also experience sleep problems. The reasons are unclear, but anxiety could play a role.

A lack of sleep can affect the immune system and have other mental and physical consequences. Anyone with HIV who has sleep problems should inform a doctor, as they may recommend therapy or medication.

Learning more about HIV can also help a person feel more in control of their situation.

A person with HIV can become pregnant and deliver a healthy baby. However, it is important to take precautions to avoid passing on the virus to the baby.

These measures include:

  • staying in close contact with the doctor or midwife
  • taking HIV treatments exactly as prescribed
  • in most cases, having a cesarean delivery
  • a doctor giving special medication to the infant
  • not breastfeeding or chestfeeding

In 99% of cases, when the doctor and birthing person follow the guidelines above, the baby does not contract HIV.

Historically, the long-term outlook for HIV was poor. Modern advances in treatment mean 51% of people living with HIV in the U.S. are aged 50 or older.

As people age, they are more likely to develop chronic health conditions — such as lung disease, certain cancers, and cardiovascular disease — and people with HIV are no different. These conditions may not be related to the virus, though having HIV may have increased the person’s susceptibility.

Also, some people with HIV develop associated neurocognitive disorders. These can affect their ability to focus, move, memorize, and use language.

Research into the long-term impact of HIV and its treatment is ongoing. As scientists learn more about the virus, there is hope that the outlook will continue to improve.

Yes, a person can live a full life with HIV. People with HIV today are living long, healthy lives thanks to modern treatment options.

A 2020 life expectancy study has shown that HIV-positive individuals who begin ART promptly and have sufficient medical care can live as long as HIV-negative people. However, the city also noted that HIV-positive people did develop more health conditions than their peers. This highlights the need for good adherence to medication regimes and regular medical checkups.

Providing people living with HIV begin ART promptly, take their medications as prescribed, and make every effort to live an otherwise healthy lifestyle, they are more than able to live a full life with HIV.

When a person receives an HIV diagnosis, they may feel overwhelmed. Although HIV is a chronic illness, modern treatments mean people can reach undetectable status and live a full, healthy life.

While each individual’s experience is different, people should work with a healthcare professional to establish the best possible treatment plan for them. They can also seek support from family, friends, and support groups.