Antiretrovirals: Side Effects Can Be Managed

Antiretrovirals: Side Effects Can Be Managed

Receiving an HIV diagnosis can have a great impact on the person since it implies starting to live with a chronic condition. Just like people with diabetes or hypertension, a person with HIV must take medication every day, during their entire lifetime, in order to maintain optimal health.

Some are afraid to start antiretroviral therapy because they don’t know what to expect regarding side effects from the drug. There is still the idea that they are “very strong” drugs and that they can cause problems that are difficult to manage.

The truth is that the antiretroviral (or ARV) drugs most used today are those that have maximum effectiveness and at the same time are the most comfortable doses to take, as well as the fewest side effects so that the treatment prescribed by the doctor will most likely cause little if any problem at all.

What Can I Expect?

Most people in treatment do not have any side effects, or have some mild effects, which disappear within a few weeks. However, if those effects become a problem, it is possible to switch one or more ARV drugs thanks to the wide variety available today.

The organization i-Base, an HIV treatment activism group based in England, has some recommendations for monitoring the side effects of ARVs. It is important that you observe if any of these appear:

  • Rash: Report to your doctor.
  • Mood swings, anxiety, trouble sleeping – could happen with any ARV drug, but is more likely to happen with efavirenz.
  • Diarrhea, tiredness, or discomfort: could appear with any ARV drug, but are less common now; diarrhea is more common with protease inhibitors.
  • Changes in kidney or liver function, cholesterol, etc.: possible with any ARV but this should be monitored with routine tests.

What Can be Done to Manage it?

First, it is important to keep a record of side effects so that you can give your healthcare professional as clear a picture as possible of what is happening to you. For this, it is advisable to keep a side effects diary, in which you write down things like:

  • At what point does it happen to you?
  • How often does it happen to you?
  • How long does it last?
  • Is it mild or severe?
  • How does it affect your daily life?

If for some reason you can’t keep such a detailed record, make a simple list of topics that you want to discuss at your next doctor’s visit. There are people who have been living with HIV for years or even decades and still prepare their list to make sure they won’t forget anything important on the day of the appointment.

This information will help you and your doctor make the best decisions about a possible change in treatment that will make you feel more secure and comfortable and will make it easier for you to follow the prescription.

At AHF Latin America and the Caribbean, we have free rapid HIV tests, linkage to treatment, if you have not started it yet. Contact us, locate your service center or write to our WhatsApp number in your country.