While there is no cure for HIV, there are many ways an HIV positive person can live a long, healthy life. One of those ways is by taking specific HIV medications. There are a number of different types of treatment available, but most treatments have the same goal.
Not everyone needs to take treatment. Most of the time, people start treatment when their CD4 count is low, which in the UK means below 350. Sometimes, doctors may start treatment before if there is additional risk, such as during pregnancy.
Since HIV weakens your body’s immune system, it can make you more likely to get sick. The more HIV that is in your body (which is measured by viral load- how much virus is in the blood), the more it can affect your immune system. The way it affects your immune system is by attacking the CD4 cells. CD4 cells are types
of white blood cells (also known as T Cells) that help your body fight infection. HIV takes over these cells. With untreated HIV infection, the number of CD4 cells goes down, making it harder for your body to fight infection. Treatment makes it harder for the HIV to copy itself and spread to other cells, and the goal of treatment is to reduce the amount of HIV in the blood (viral load).
While technology keeps making new, better forms of treatment, the patient plays a crucial role in making sure the treatment works. The best way to help ensure treatment works, is through adherence. Adherence means “sticking to it” – in this case, following the doctor’s plan exactly for how you are supposed to take your medication. When treatment is taken correctly, it is more likely to work. If there is something making adherence difficult, talk to your doctor. You may be able to switch medications. Also, many people are able to better adhere
to their treatment if they have social support. Attending meetings with other HIV positive people on treatment is a great way to get support and find out some strategies for living with HIV and on treatment.
Check out i-base and aidsmap for further treatment information.