I live with HIV, what tests should I do?
Once you have received an HIV diagnosis, it is ideal to begin medical care as soon as possible. This will allow the infection to be controlled as soon as possible and thus prevent your immune system, and your health in general, from being significantly affected by the virus.
When you have joined a health institution to receive treatment, care will most likely begin with a series of tests to assess your situation, and then, from time to time, the medical team will carry out various tests to see how the treatment is progressing and how is your body responding in general?
If you are starting treatment or if you still do not know what to expect from health checkups, here are some guidelines, based on information collected by the specialized HIV website Aidsmap.com
Interrogation: It sounds rude, but it’s not. These are the questions your doctor asks you in the consultation to find out how you feel, if you have any symptoms or any specific concerns about your treatment. This can be done every time you go to the appointment, but if it doesn’t happen, feel free to bring anything you feel is important to the conversation.
Viral load: Refers to the amount of virus in each milliliter of blood. You will see it written as “copies/mm3”, and it is an important piece of information to know how advanced the infection is and how much it is being controlled since you started antiretroviral treatment. Viral load tests can be done every 3 or 6 months, depending on the need to monitor that number (when you start treatment they can be done more frequently to see if it is working properly). The goal of antiretroviral treatment is for the viral load to be so low that it becomes undetectable.
CD4 count: CD4 T lymphocytes are the cells of the immune system that are attacked by HIV. In this way, if the virus has managed to affect your defense system, the CD4 count will be low. On the contrary, a CD4 count within normal ranges will indicate that the antiretroviral treatment is working well and that your immune system is strong. This exam is usually done every 3 to 6 months.
Complete blood count: It is an analysis of all the elements that make up the blood, such as the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, hemoglobin, among others. If any of these elements are detected to be outside the normal ranges, it could be an indicator that you have a disease that requires attention.
Glucose: As in all people, measuring glucose is important to ensure that the body properly processes the energy that comes from food. When glucose appears very high, the person is at risk of diabetes. This is no different for those living with HIV.
Lipid panel: Refers to the measurement of the different types of fats that circulate in the blood. An excess of lipids can block the arteries and put the cardiovascular system at risk. Some antiretroviral drugs can cause an increase in cholesterol, so close monitoring is necessary.
Liver: Many of the drugs, in general, and also those that fight HIV, are eliminated from the body through the liver. Some blood tests can show if this organ is processing medicines and food properly.
Kidneys: It is important to check that the kidneys are working properly and that they are doing their job of removing certain wastes from the body.
Papanicolaou test: In women with HIV, the medical team should look for a possible simultaneous infection with the human papillomavirus or HPV. This is done through a Pap test, and can be repeated annually to prevent the development of cervix cancer.
Bone density: People with HIV are especially exposed to loss of bone density, either due to the action of some medications or due to infection with the virus itself. For this reason, it is important to carry out an examination of this type, which is carried out by means of X-rays.
As you can notice, most of the studies are the same as those that would be done on someone without HIV, but paying special attention to certain indicators. If you have any questions about how or when these tests will be done, discuss them with your doctor.
And if you already have a positive diagnosis of HIV but have not started your treatment or want to resume it, come to AHF Latin America and the Caribbean, here we can help you. Just locate our nearest office in your country or write to us on Whatsapp.