Due to dramatic improvements in HIV treatments and the public’s understanding of the condition, many people can reach undetectable status and live full, healthy lives.

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

In addition to taking medication, people living with HIV need to commit to regular checkups with a health professional. Maintaining a balanced lifestyle and seeking treatment for other medical issues can help those with the condition stay healthy.

However, adhering to a treatment regimen can be difficult. HIV medication is expensive in the United States, and many people have difficulty affording it. Health insurance may not cover medication and appointments, and these can be inaccessible for people without insurance.

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

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When a person discovers they have HIV, they tend to experience a range of feelings, from fear and anger to denial. It is important to understand that this reaction is typical. Research has shown that individuals living with HIV and those at risk of contracting HIV are more likely to have mental health conditions.

It is essential for people to understand there is life after an HIV diagnosis. As worrying as it may seem at first, there are steps individuals can take to manage the condition and improve their health.

Step 1: Seek medical care

Accessing affordable healthcare is essential to the health and well-being of a person living with HIV. For many people in the U.S., health insurance is available through work. For people on a low income, Medicare or Medicaid will likely cover HIV-related medical costs. Under the Affordable Care Act, people cannot be denied coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition, which includes HIV. For more information on paying for care, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has resources for people with HIV.

Step 2: Start HIV medications

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

Step 3: 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, there are state-specific HIV hotlines they can contact.

Step 4: Learn about HIV and AIDS

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

Learn more about HIV and AIDS.

Step 5: Understand how to avoid transmission

People who faithfully follow an ART regimen are able to lower their viral load or the levels of HIV in their bodies. Over time, these levels can drop so low as to become undetectable. When this happens, the person living with HIV can no longer transmit the virus. This is known as “undetectable=untransmittable.”

It can take time to achieve an undetectable viral load. People who are not sure whether they have HIV must continue to take precautions, such as using barrier protection during sex and never sharing needles. Their sexual partners may be able to use HIV protection medication such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). Those who already know they have HIV should also continue to use barrier protection to decrease the risk of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

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 someone living with HIV. Those who manage their condition properly can expect a high quality of life.

Using ART helps many people with HIV avoid the virus’ adverse health effects. Treatment decreases levels 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, a person can no longer transmit HIV as long as they continue to take medication.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that everyone living with HIV start ART. Its combination of drugs can keep people healthy and prevent further transmission of the virus.

To manage HIV, people need to take their medication daily and as instructed by a healthcare professional. They also need to attend regular medical appointments and track any emerging 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 those that occur more often in people with compromised immune systems.

Having uncontrolled HIV can make it easier for a person to develop other infections, which may then be more challenging to treat. Getting ART and staying up-to-date on vaccines can help prevent this.

It is still crucial for people living with HIV to monitor their health closely, so they recognize early signs of possible infection. A healthcare professional can help them identify their health risks, know what issues to be aware of, and answer any questions they may have.

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

Learn more about the 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 living with HIV can experience issues that make it difficult to eat or swallow. These issues may be due to infections, the side effects of medication, or other health-related complications.

This can also be problematic if people need to take their HIV medication with food. Those who find it challenging to eat should discuss solutions with a healthcare professional.

Where necessary, a dietitian or other healthcare expert can develop a plan to help individuals avoid nutrient deficiencies and unwanted weight loss or gain.

Regular exercise is also critical for people with HIV. Exercise can regulate immune function, stimulate appetite, improve mental health, and prevent constipation. People living with HIV can typically enjoy the same types of exercise as those who have not contracted the virus. However, they should consult a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen.

HIV and AIDS resources

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

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The symptoms of foodborne illnesses, sometimes collectively called food poisoning, can be more severe in people with uncontrolled HIV. Those living with the condition may need to spend time in the hospital if they get food poisoning. In some cases, it can become life threatening.

The following tips can help prevent foodborne illnesses:

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

Maintaining good overall health is important for people living 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, other cancers, and lung issues. According to research, the risk is higher among people with HIV.
  • Limiting alcohol intake: Some evidence shows that people living with HIV who regularly drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol have poor viral suppression. This may be because they fail to follow an ART regimen faithfully.
  • Avoiding recreational drug use: Recreational drugs may interfere with prescription medications and can make a person less likely to follow their treatment plan.

Learn about ways to quit smoking.

Having support can make managing the challenges of living with HIV easier. It may help to speak with a:

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

Telling others about a diagnosis can feel daunting for some people. 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.

Ultimately, the decision to share the news with others is up to that individual. Any diagnosis of HIV is considered private healthcare information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This means that people who live with HIV are not legally required to tell their friends, employers, or colleagues about their diagnosis, and their healthcare professionals cannot release the information to an outside party without their consent.

People who are under 18 years old when they receive their diagnosis may encounter different laws surrounding treatment and the privacy of their health information. In some states, healthcare professionals may be allowed to inform their parents or legal guardians about their diagnosis. For more information about minors’ access to services, click here. The Department of Justice has more information about legal protections for people living with HIV.

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

The CDC also has more information on HIV disclosure requirements.

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

Sexual relationships

People who have contracted HIV can have active sex lives. But it is still important to take precautions.

The CDC recommends sharing the diagnosis with sexual partners, which can help to keep both people healthy. Some U.S. states require people living with HIV to share their status with sexual partners and anyone with whom they may share needles. Failing to disclose one’s HIV status may be considered a crime in these states. It is important for people to check the laws in the states they live in or visit.

A person living with HIV cannot transmit the virus if their viral load is undetectable and they continue taking ART 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 living with HIV, they should 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 anyone with an STI has a higher risk of contracting HIV. One reason is that the STI may cause broken skin or sores, making it easier for HIV to enter the body.

Personal relationships

Living with HIV can be challenging, but it is more manageable with the right support. Some people worry about telling their family and friends that they have HIV due to the stigma often associated with the virus.

Connecting with a network of people who provide emotional support can also reduce some of the stress of living with HIV.

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

Despite increased awareness around HIV and advances in treatment, some people who live with the virus still face stigma and discrimination. Prejudices stem from myths, fears, a lack of education about HIV, and entrenched institutional attitudes.

People living with HIV should know they have the same right 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 (ADA) protects people living with HIV from discrimination. The Act considers all people living with HIV as legally disabled, whether they have symptoms or not. Anyone who experiences this type of discrimination can file a complaint with the Department of Justice.

Some people may need to take time off work to manage their symptoms or attend medical appointments. This means that public and private entities such as employers, landlords, and businesses are required to make “reasonable accommodations” to ensure they are fully able to access things such as employment, housing, schools, and other public venues. The Act also bars those same entities from asking specifics about a person’s health status.

A person may request verification of the disability from a healthcare professional, which details the specific limitations related to it, such as needing additional breaks throughout the day due to fatigue. It is illegal to fire someone due to their HIV-positive status.

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

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

Anyone concerned 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.

Nonmedicated ways of managing stress and mood disorders include:

Some people with HIV also experience sleep issues. 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 living with HIV who has sleep problems should inform a healthcare professional, who may recommend therapy or medication.

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

A person living with HIV can become pregnant and deliver a healthy baby. However, it is important to take precautions to avoid passing the virus to the baby. In 99% of cases, when a pregnant person follows certain steps, the baby will not have HIV, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

These measures include:

  • taking HIV treatments exactly as prescribed
  • having a cesarean delivery when the viral load is high
  • giving ART to the infant under the monitoring of a healthcare professional
  • not nursing

Historically, the long-term outlook for people living with HIV was poor. Now, 51% of people living with HIV are 50 years and older.

As people age, they are more likely to develop chronic health conditions, such as lung disease, certain cancers, and cardiovascular disease. People living with HIV are no different. These conditions may not be related to the virus, but contracting HIV can increase a person’s susceptibility to them.

Some people with HIV also develop 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.

People living with HIV today can enjoy many healthy years as a result of modern treatment options.

A 2020 studyconfirmed that individuals living with HIV can live nearly as long as those without it, as long as they begin ART promptly and have sufficient medical care. However, the study also noted that people living with HIV developed more health conditions than their peers. It highlighted the need for careful adherence to medication regimens and regular medical checkups.

If 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 that people can reach undetectable status and live full, healthy lives.

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