Care after your follow-up HIV tests
Once you have started antiretroviral treatment, it will be necessary to check that it is working well. To do this, every three or four months you must undergo blood tests that evaluate some levels in your body.
The goal of HIV treatment is to stop the replication of the virus, which allows the immune system to recover and resume its normal function. The only way to know for sure that these things are happening is two blood measurements.
The first of these is the measurement of viral load, which calculates the number of copies of the virus per milliliter of blood. The second is the CD4 cell count, which reports the number of these immune cells per cubic millimeter of blood.
The problem is real
Of course, it is very important to have these tests regularly, since a high CD4 count and a low (or better, undetectable) viral load are the expected results of treatment.
But it is also true that the day they are held can be exhausting. This is how Juan Michael Porter II tells it, who lives with HIV and is also one of the editors of the specialized website TheBody.com.
In his experience, the amount of blood drawn for tests makes him feel exhausted, and this is something his medical team had not told him about early in his treatment.
Discussing it with other people with HIV, Porter discovered that he wasn’t the only one who felt this way, others were going through the same thing, from headaches throughout the day to a general malaise that prevented them from continuing with their normal day.
The author goes further and offers some hard facts. While the human body holds between 4.5 and 5.7 liters of blood, when tested, ten vials are drawn from it, which adds up to about 80 milliliters. Although it might not seem like much, that’s enough to make you feel dizzy and disoriented.
It is true that only a couple of vials would be needed to measure the viral load and the CD4 count, but it is also very possible that the medical team will take advantage of this periodic review to do various other blood tests, such as cholesterol, glucose, renal function and the detection of other infections, for which a vial would be needed for each evaluation.
Listen to your body
However, not all people with HIV feel bad when they go for their follow-up tests. While some may feel intense fatigue, headaches or body pain, others will be able to continue with their daily activities without any problem.
If you are one of the people to whom it does happen, give your body some recovery time: rest that day, eat well, sleep or relax with activities that do not require great physical activity.
The important thing is that you do not ignore these types of signs, which may have occurred in these days of tests and perhaps you did not relate them to the fact that your blood is drawn. Or it is also possible that you considered that it was not important enough to bring it up at your next medical appointment.
A primary factor in the proper treatment of HIV is to talk to your medical team about any change, discomfort or concern that arises in your health, no matter how simple it may seem. If you bring up the problems you feel after the tests, your doctors may be able to recommend solutions.
If, on the contrary, you come across a health professional who tells you that what you feel is “not that serious”, insist on seeing another specialist or at the next appointment, or look for someone from the health staff who will listen to what you have what to say. It’s a kind of lobbying job for the benefit of your own well-being.
Remember that comprehensive care will help not only to have better control of HIV, but also to have a good quality of life. And if you already have a diagnosis, but you have not started your antiretroviral treatment, or if you suspended it and want to resume it, come to AHF Latin America and the Caribbean and we will accompany you in the process. We are in 11 countries in the region.