Today’s HIV treatment encompasses a series of medications taken to slow the virus’ progress in the body. It’s important to remember, though we are constantly making new advancements in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment, there is still no cure for the disease.
The drugs given to combat the disease are called “Antiretrovirals” or antiretroviral therapy (ART because HIV is a type of retrovirus. Since the 1990s, ARTS have been combined to treat HIV. Though there isn’t yet a cure in existence, ARTs can help keep a patient healthy for many years, even preventing end stage HIV- AIDS- from ever developing. The types of drugs have changed and although there is a standard, each patient will have therapy tailored for that person. This is standard for anyone suffering from HIV, no matter how long they’ve had the HIV virus.
both help reduce and keep down a patient’s viral load, or the
amount of virus in their body and bodily fluids. Not only do they
effectively slow the progression of HIV, antiretroviral therapy can
make it all but impossible to transmit the virus to others.
How Does Antiretroviral Treatment Work?
Antiviral medications actually inhibit certain steps in the HIV replication process, slowing the HIV infection itself. The medications are taken in combination every day in a regimen developed by a specialized physician, recommended to every HIV patient.
Essentially, these medications prevent the HIV virus from creating copies of itself, drastically slowing the spread of HIV in the body and giving the immune system an opportunity to recover. There is always going to be some HIV in the body, but now the immune system is strong enough to fight off other infections.
- ART works by keeping your viral load low, thereby giving your immune system opportunity to recover.
HIV works by attacking specialized white blood cells (CD4 cells) normally meant to fight infections in the body. After infecting a CD4 cell the HIV virus will convert that cell into a “virus producing factory” to simply manufacture more viruses. Without treatment to combat the disease, more and more cells will be producing more and more virus, which in turn attack more healthy cells and continuously decrease the amount of healthy CD4 cells while increasing viral load.
Very simply said, HIV will attack and cause great harm to your immune system if not treated. This opens the door to opportunistic infections, which normally do not effect a healthy person.
- With today’s advancements in medical treatment and ARTs, many people with HIV are living just as long as people without!
- ARTs allow a person to live a high quality of life with a normal life span.
- ARTs can even lower a person’s viral load to undetectable levels, meaning it exists in their bodies in such small quantities that there is no risk of transmission, and no adverse effect on their health.
- Stopping ART treatment will cause viral load to go back up.
- Refrain from recreational drugs that may interfere with the effectiveness of the ART , be honest with your Physician regarding your entire medical and social history.
Discuss HIV Treatment with Your Doctor
It’s very normal to feel worried or scared regarding treatment, or HIV in general and may cause someone to ignore the problem, choosing to forget rather than stress over the solution. Ignoring the problem is one of the absolute worst things one can do, creating a danger for both the patients and those around them.
When Should You Begin HIV Treatment?
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends antiretroviral therapy begin as soon as possible after a patient has received a positive diagnosis. The earlier treatment is started, the less damage the HIV virus can do to the body. Early treatment also helps keep viral load low, which in turn decreases the damage the virus can do.
- Today’s HIV treatments need to be taken every day for the rest of the patient’s life.
- There are several different kinds of ART drugs and drug combinations. Be sure to discuss which one are right for you with your healthcare provider.
As with many medical treatments meant to combat a disease so drastic, there are possible side effects a patient might expect. Not every patient is going to experience the same side effects. Thankfully, the ART’s developed today carry fewer side effects, and the ones that do occur will vary from person to person. Be sure to tell your doctor about any side affects you might be experiencing and know there are alternatives and treatment for them.
- Lack of sleep
- Dry mouth
Just like adults, ART can help keep a child with HIV healthy, letting them lead the same normal, fulfilling life as everyone else. Just like adults, its recommended children with HIV start treatment as soon as possible. Without treatment, HIV will progressively damage a child’s immune system, just like an adult. Depending on their age, young children may already have a weakened immune system (compared to a healthy adult), so HIV can be especially dangerous if untreated.
- Mothers can transmit HIV via breast milk.
- HIV can be spread from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth.